Like many nations worldwide Ukraine has traditionally marked Christmas on January 7th according to the Julian calendar, but is celebrating on December 25th for the first time this year, a report notes.
Ukraine is signaling its difference from Russia in a new way, by departing from the Orthodox tradition of observing the Julian calendar and Christmas on January 7th and celebrating the ancient holiday according to the Gregorian calendar on December 25th instead. As a report on the change by British state broadcaster the BBC notes, the change was made in law by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky back in the summer.
Zelensky claimed then that by changing the date, Ukraine could “abandon the Russian heritage”.
The Metropolitan Bishop Epiphanius I of Kyiv, the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, noted this change in his Christmas address broadcast on Sunday night. He said, per Ukrainian state media that: “This year, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, together with the majority of local churches, for the first time fully celebrates the holidays according to the Revised Julian calendar… Christmas calls for a rethinking of life views and reminds us of eternal Christian values: faith, love, and truth are the guides of stability and the foundation of our struggle.”
While no doubt a symbolic step for Ukrainians wishing to put as much distance between themselves and Russia as possible, the date of Christmas isn’t necessarily Russian heritage, but rather Orthodox. Many nations worldwide celebrate Christmas on this traditional date, with the division going back to the 11th century.
Among those nations with Orthodox roots who observe the January 7th date are Belarus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Russia.
The abandonment of the Orthodox tradition to put clear water between Kyiv and Moscow isn’t the only area where Ukraine has taken such steps of late. Around a third of Ukrainians speak Russian as their daily language — President Volodymyr Zelensky’s first language is Russian — but the use of the language is dwindling during wartime.
President Zelensky also made a Christmas address to Ukraine on Sunday night. He made passing reference to his having moved the date of the festival, but focussed mainly on the war. He said: “This is Christmas in times of full-scale war. Christmas with a different mood, context, and flavor… How we rejoice at seeing the first star in the evening sky and not seeing enemy missiles and [drones] in it.”
Zelensky spoke of Kyiv’s great and ancient monastery, the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, and spoke of its importance as a symbol for the whole nation. He said: “A thousand-year old symbol of Ukrainian history, our culture, religion, Orthodoxy, and all of Eastern Christianity… Throughout its history, this place has experienced numerous upheavals and hardships.
“Profanation, desecration, looting. The Horde, the Nazis, the Soviet times. This place was captured, burned, and destroyed. But no one has ever been able to destroy it completely and forever. The Lavra has always withstood to be reborn again.”