CHRISTMAS IN THE UKRAINE
Ukrainian Christmas customs are based not only on Christian traditions, but to a great degree on those of the
pre Christian, pagan culture and religion. The Ukrainian society was basically agrarian at that time and had developed
an appropriate pagan culture, elements of which have survived to this day.
The season of Christmas begins with advent (Pylypivka)-four weeks of fasting and preparing one's self for the birth
of Christ. In preparation for Christmas, the house is cleaned from top to bottom and the outside of the house is
whitewashed. A sheaf of wheat (didukh) is saved from the harvest. The didukh represents the family: the living, the
dead and those unborn. Before Christmas Eve (Sviata Techera), the sheaf is decorated with ribbons, flowers and a
small wreath of basil. It is put under an icon in a corner of the room on Christmas Eve.
St. Nicholas Day, not Christmas, is the usual gift-giving day in Ukraine. On this day people invite guests in and
sleighs would be ridden around the village to see if the snow was slippery [icy]. This is the holiday for young
children, for they would receive gifts from St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children. "St. Nicholas" was often
accompanied by "angels" and might have quizzed the children on their catechism.
The tradition of spider webs on the tree is based upon the following legend:
There once was a widow, who lived in a small hut. One day a pinecone dropped on the floor and it took root.
Her children were excited that they would have a tree for Christmas. All summer long they made plans on how
they would decorate the tree. They were very poor, so poor that they did not have anything to decorate the tree
with. The widow went to bed on Christmas Eve knowing that the tree would not be decorated. Early on Christmas
morning, the woman was awakened by her children. "Mother, mother wake up and see the tree it is beautiful!"
The mother arose and saw that during the night a spider had spun a web around the tree. The youngest child opened
the window to the first light of Christmas Day. As the shafts of the sun crept along the floor, it touched one of the
threads of the spider web and instantly the web was changed into gold and silver. And from that day forward the widow
never wanted for anything.
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