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Ukraine celebrates Christmas on December 25 for the first time

Ukraine celebrates Christmas on December 25 for the first time Christmas in Ukraine - December 25 (Getty Images)
Author: Liliana Oleniak

Today, on December 25, Orthodox and Greek Catholics in Ukraine celebrate Christmas for the first time according to the New Julian calendar. After the church reform, the date of the holiday was finally moved from January 7 to the state level.

Sources used: the church calendar of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the text of the resolution of the Local Council of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Wikipedia, KANTAR research data, and Bill No. 9431.

Christmas in Ukraine: the way to a new date

Most worshippers around the world celebrate Christmas on December 25. In Ukraine, the traditional date of the holiday has long been January 7.

The reason for this difference is different calendars. Ukrainian churches used to follow the Julian calendar, while Western Christians have long since abandoned it due to significant errors and switched to the Gregorian or New Julian calendar.

Discussions about the need for calendar changes, including the celebration of Christmas, gradually grew in Ukrainian society:

  • In 2017, December 25 was declared an official holiday along with January 7. Both dates became holidays, but church Christmas services were held on January 6 and 7.
  • In 2019 Metropolitan Epifanii of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine said that the OCU could officially celebrate Christmas according to the Gregorian calendar.
  • In 2022 the Synod of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine approved the Christmas service on December 25. For the first time, it was held in the Kyiv Cave Monastery.
  • In June 2023 the Orthodox Church of Ukraine announced the transition to the New Julian calendar, according to which the date of the holiday has shifted to December 25.
  • In July 2023 the Verkhovna Rada supported the change in the date of Christmas. January 7 was removed from the list of state holidays.

Ukraine celebrates Christmas on December 25 for the first timeScreenshot of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine church calendar

Together with the world, not with Russia

The Russian invasion has intensified the need for calendar changes because the Julian calendar is a feature of the Russian church culture. Only 6 of the 16 local Orthodox churches continue to use it, including the Russian Orthodox Church and the churches of the so-called Moscow Patriarchate in Belarus and Moldova.

The Synod of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine approved the calendar reform, seeking to dissociate itself from the traditions of the Russian Church.

"The desire to preserve and affirm our Ukrainian and spiritual identity, protection from the aggression of the 'Russian world', required our Church to make an urgent decision - to join the majority of Local Orthodox Churches by introducing the New Julian calendar, as a more accurate astronomically and ecclesiastically accepted calendar, while preserving the traditional Easter," reads the report of the head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Epifanii.

The decision to switch to the New Julian calendar was also approved by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Thus, after the calendar reform, Ukraine will celebrate Christmas together with the majority of Eastern Orthodox churches (Patriarchate of Constantinople, Patriarchate of Alexandria of Antioch, Romanian, Bulgarian, churches of Cyprus, Greece, Albania, Czech Republic, Slovakia), Greek Catholics, Western churches in Europe and America (Roman Catholic, Protestant, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican).

Ukraine celebrates Christmas on December 25 for the first timeUkrainians will celebrate Christmas with most Christians around the world (Getty Images)

What about the date of January 7

After the calendar change, the church did not prohibit the celebration of Christmas on January 7 to avoid dividing society and causing controversy.

"In the calendar reform, we will not force anyone, allowing them to make the necessary changes gradually and consciously," the decision of the Local Council of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine states.

Parishes and monasteries, if they wished, were allowed to hold Christmas services in the old style during a certain transition period.

As Orthodox Church of Ukraine priest Heorhii Kovalenko previously told RBC-Ukraine, the exact timeframe of this transition period was not set in the Orthodox Church, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church will have a transition period of 2 years.

At the same time, the priest added that only a small number of parishes decided to stay with the old style, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (former Moscow Patriarchate) prevails among them.

Ukraine celebrates Christmas on December 25 for the first timeThe first Christmas service in the Lavra on December 25, 2022 (Vitalii Nosach, RBC-Ukraine)

The number of supporters of moving the date of Christmas from January 7 to December 25 in Ukraine has been gradually increasing in recent years.

According to a Kantar survey, before the full-scale invasion, only 18% of respondents celebrated Christmas on December 25. A quarter of citizens planned to celebrate Christmas twice - on December 25 and January 7. At the same time, in 2023, more than 60% of respondents said they planned to celebrate on December 25.