Some Ukrainians are postponing Christmas to break away from Russia

BOBRYTSIA – Ukrainians usually celebrate Christmas on January 7, as do Russians. But not this year, or at least not all of them.

Some Orthodox Ukrainians have chosen to celebrate Christmas on December 25, like many Christians around the world. Yes, that has to do with it the warand yes, they have the blessing of their local church.

The idea of ​​commemorating the birth of Jesus in December was considered radical in Ukraine until recently, but the invasion of Russia changed many hearts and minds.

In October, the leadership of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which is not affiliated with the Russian Church and is one of two branches of Orthodox Christianity in the country, agreed to allow believers to celebrate on December 25.

The choice of dates has clear political and religious overtones in a nation with rival orthodox churches and where minor revisions to rituals can have powerful meaning in a culture war running parallel to the gunnery war.

For some people, the change in date means a breakup with Russia, its culture, and religion. People in a village on the outskirts of Kyiv recently voted to increase their Christmas celebrations.

“What began on February 24, the full-scale invasion, is an awakening and an understanding that we can no longer be part of the Russian world,” said Olena Paliy, a 33-year-old resident of Bobrytsia.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which claims sovereignty over Orthodoxy in Ukraine, and some other Eastern Orthodox Churches continue to use the old Julian calendar. Christmas falls 13 days later on this calendar, or January 7, than on the Gregorian calendar used by most religious and secular groups.

The Catholic Church first adopted the modern, astronomically more accurate Gregorian calendar in the 16th century, and Protestants and some Orthodox churches have since aligned their own calendars to calculate Christmas.

The Synod of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in October decreed that local church leaders could choose the date together with their congregations. The decision followed years of discussion, but was also due to the circumstances of the war.

In Bobrytsia, some members of the faith encouraged change within the local church, which recently became part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with no ties to Russia. When a vote was held last week, 200 out of 204 people said yes to adopting December 25 as a new day to celebrate Christmas.

“This is a big step, because never in our history have we in Ukraine had the same dates for the celebration of Christmas with the whole Christian world. We were separated all the time,” said Roman Ivanenko, a local official in Bobrytsia and one of the proponents of the change. With the move, he said, “they break that link” with the Russians.

“The church is Ukrainian and the holidays are Ukrainian,” said Oleg Shkula, a member of the volunteer Territorial Defense Force in the district to which the village belongs. For him, his church need not be associated with “darkness and gloom and with the antichrist that is Russia today.”

In 2019, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, granted full independence, or autocephaly, to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Ukrainians, who advocated the recognition of a national church in conjunction with Ukraine’s political independence from the former Soviet Union, had long sought such approval.

The Russian Orthodox Church and its leader, Patriarch Kirill, strongly protested the move, saying Ukraine was not under Bartholomew’s jurisdiction.

The other major branch of Orthodoxy in the country, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, remained loyal to Moscow until the outbreak of war. However, it declared its independence in May remains under government control. This church traditionally celebrates Christmas on January 7th.


Arhirova reported from Kyiv, Ukraine. Associated Press religious correspondent Peter Smith contributed from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


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Sarah Y. Kim

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