Inhabitants of a fairytale town loved Christmas very much. On the eve of the holiday they like to feast, give presents and decorate their houses. But one day, green cave-dwelling creature Grinch, made plans to descend on the town and to deprive the citizens of their Christmas presents, dinners, and decorations, and thus to find a way to keep Christmas from coming. As dawn breaks, he expects to hear wails of anguish from the people, but is confused to hear them singing a joyous Christmas song instead. He puzzles for a moment until it dawns upon him that perhaps Christmas is more than presents and feasting. This story "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" was written by Dr. Seuss in 1957 and later animated and filmed by Hollywood. He story was considered as an answer to commercialization of folk holidays. However, despite everything, mass sale of Christmas-themed items increases with every passing year.

Meanwhile, Christmas combines a variety of beautiful and ancient heathen rituals and modern church traditions. They are so many that it is difficult to tell which one is catholic, orthodox, lutheran or native Ukrainian. Another problem is that in the Soviet Union religion was replaced by atheism and the very essence of Christmas holidays was forgotten. After 1991, when Hollywood production filled the screens, many people started to confuse native traditions with foreign ones.

Let's start with the fact that Nativity in Ukraine has been celebrated since old times, when Rus' was heathen. "This holiday was celebrated at the beginning of spring, when the nature blossoms. If you listen to the text of popular carol songs, you will understand that the words like 'a swallow has arrived' sound strange in the height of winter. But at for the beginning of spring it was normal," Galyna Yanchenko, public activist studying Ukrainian folk traditions, says.

According to her, there are many native Ukrainian rituals, but the most important are three. "The first one is a tradition to make 'diduh' of the first or the last wheat sheaf. In fact, in the Old Slavic language the word diduh means the spirit of ancestors. In pre Christian times, diduh personified the deity - family protector. Diduh was placed at the festive table. It was believed that souls of the dead stay next to it. In such a way, Ukrainians used to praise their ancestors on Nativity Eve," Galyna told ForUm.

"Another important tradition is meatless 12-dishes meal on Christmas Eve with kollyva as a principal dish. Traditionally, kollyva must be cooked of wheat and dressed with honey, nuts and poppy seeds. In Russia, for example, kollyva is cooked of rice, and this tradition has been adopted by several Eastern regions of Ukraine. Moreover, only in our country people used to sing not only carols, but also 'vinshivkas' - well-wishing songs. Unfortunately, they have not survived to this day. It is difficult to find the original texts even through internet," Galyna Yanchenko added.

Carols songs were popular in Ukraine even before Christianity, but, according to Yanchenko, by church order the lyrics were partially changed - in particular, nature revival tunes were replaced by Christian tunes.

Native Ukrainian traditions also include the ritual to braid nativity spider. A spider made of straw used to be hung over the entrance door. Drafts moved the spider and it created mystic atmosphere in the house. Ukrainians also used to bake several kinds of bread and special patties for children. Kids had to remember what stuffing their patties had. It was believed that if a kid got lost, but remembered the stuffing of his Christmas patty, he would find the way home.

Santa, deer and alcohol

Thanks to foreign cinema we are used to the fact that old Santa Clause comes through chimney, put presents for kids in special socks and flies in a sleigh, pulled by reindeer. "In Ukraine, however, presents were not given on Christmas eve, but on December 19 - Saint Nicolas day," Galyna Yanchenko notes.   

Toy Christmas angels have also come from western cultures. They are Catholic attributes. Christmas pine tree, decorated with candles and ribbons, is a Lutheran tradition. In old times, Ukrainian did not decorate pine tree, as it was considered a burial tree. Germany was the first country to introduce the tradition to decorate pine trees for winter holidays. Petr the First brought this western tradition to our countries.

To hang mistletoe over the entrance door is less popular western tradition among Ukrainians. This tradition is of Celtic origin and first appeared on the territory of British islands. Mistletoe was considered a holy tree there.

A specific feature of modern holidays is abundance of food and alcohol. However, the tradition of Nativity holiday has never meant overeating, archbishop Evstratiy (Zorya), head of the information office of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv patriarchy, reminds. "Ukrainian word for holiday reminds us about holiness. That's why Christians fast before Christmas. The Nativity is a spiritual holiday. We celebrate the birth of God's son, and abuse of food and alcohol has nothing to do with it. Feast is a good tradition. Even the first Christians used to gather at the table for prayer and talks. However, they never abused of wine and meals," the archbishop underlined.

Christmas traditions and rituals are many. The majority of them appeared long time ago and were called to entertain people and fill their souls with faith. Christmas is a many-sided holiday, so do not limit yourself to standard postcards with banal inscriptions.

Christ is born! Praise Him!

Alina Yeremeyeva


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