Ukraine Changes Christmas

11/01/2023
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    Ukrainian children attend a parade on Orthodox Christmas eve in Lviv, Ukraine, on January 6, 2023. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a law moving the official Christmas Day holiday to December 25. (AP/Mykola Tys)
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    Ukrainians attend a Christmas mass at a church in Bobrytsia, Ukraine, on December 25, 2022. (AP/Felipe Dana)
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    A pro-Russia militia member reads a letter while standing by a Christmas tree near a frontline in eastern Ukraine on December 29, 2022. (AP/Alexei Alexandrov)
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    The towering Mother Ukraine statue stands in Kyiv, Ukraine. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)
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    Workers install the Ukrainian coat of arms on the shield of the Mother Ukraine statue on August 6, 2023. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)
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Volodymyr Zelenskyy doesn’t seem tied to traditions—especially Russian ones. For him—and most of Ukraine—the ongoing war with Russia has strengthened a desire to ditch Russian culture. First up? The Ukrainian president wants to change Christmas.

Zelenskyy signed a new law to adjust several holidays. He’s already submitted laws to move the Day of Ukrainian Statehood and the Day of Defenders of Ukraine. But the most debated change involves Christmas Day.

In Ukraine, the old date for Christmas was January 7. That’s the ancient Julian calendar date. It’s also when the Russian Orthodox Church observes the holiday.

But the Ukrainian Orthodox Church separated from the Russian Orthodox Church shortly after Russia’s invasion. Now all of Ukraine will observe Christmas on December 25. That’s the date set by the modern Gregorian calendar.

The Christmas date law declares that the goal is to “abandon the Russian heritage.” It cites citizens’ “relentless, successful struggle for their identity.” It identifies “the desire of all Ukrainians to live their lives with their own traditions, holidays.”

In addition to changing dates, Ukrainians are removing monuments and renaming streets. They will now honor Ukrainian artists, poets, and soldiers instead of Russian cultural figures.

Kyiv’s towering Mother Ukraine statue is one of the nation’s best-known landmarks. The 200-foot piece was previously called the “Motherland Monument.” It stands on the bank of the Dnieper River in Kyiv, facing east toward Moscow.

Ukrainian lawmakers outlawed most Soviet and Communist Party symbols in 2015. But the rules did not include World War II monuments such as the Mother Ukraine statue.

In August, officials replaced the female warrior’s Soviet hammer-and-sickle symbol. Instead, they put Ukraine’s trident (a three-pronged spear) onto Mother Ukraine’s coat of arms. Ukrainians see the switch as another way to reclaim their own cultural identity from their Communist past.

Ukraine’s national World War II museum website made a statement about the removal. It described the Soviet coat of arms as a symbol of a despotic (tyrannical) regime that “destroyed millions of people.”

“We’ve disposed the markers of our belonging to the ‘post-Soviet space,’” the site says. It further proclaims, “We are not ‘post-’, but sovereign, independent, and free Ukraine.”

The movement away from Soviet symbols and customs has quickened since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. Affirming a national character has become important for unity—even as Ukraine struggles under the horror of war.

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. — Psalm 9:9

Why? Oppressed people often find ways to protest or even shake off injustice and tyranny. History documents many who found creative outlets for making their objections known.

For more about the holidays, see Stories behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins in our Recommended Reading. 

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