Holidays and Celebrations in the Ukraine
New Year’s Day is celebrated by children and adults alike in the Ukraine. Similar to Christmas Eve, presents are placed under the New Year Tree on January 1. The night before, a presidential speech is generally broadcast. Then, at midnight, the merriment begins as champagne flows. Fireworks light the sky as a new year begins and the past drifts into memory. Writing a wish for the New Year on parchment and placing it in a champagne flute is a tradition that has carried for generations. The drink and parchment are consumed in anticipation that the wish will come true.
Father Frost (Did Moroz) and his granddaughter “Sniguron’ka," or Snow Girl, are folk heroes of this most festive holiday. Father Frost is said to hand out sweets and presents to the children, much like Santa Claus of the west.
Orthodox Christmas, January 7th is celebrated with pageantry, feasts, traditional songs, and traditional dress. Hopes of prosperity for the coming year are celebrated in carnival-type costumes along with the singing of the “Kolyaduvannya" and “Schedruvannya." When one is presented with the vocal styling of these traditional ditties, reciprocate with sweets, food or drink is appreciated. For those that perform and those that reward, tradition states that prosperity and good wishes will follow.
International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8. The origins of the festival are based on the fight for women’s working rights on March 8, 1897. The demand for ten-hour working days, clean arenas to produce, and equal pay with men were achieved on this historic date.
Once a political holiday with parades, speeches and demonstrations; International Women’s day has become more fanciful and personal. Gifts of flowers, candy and food are given to mothers and other women important in the family. The political holiday is now more reminiscent of Mother’s Day, celebrated in the United States.
Orthodox Easter is celebrated in April or May, dependent on the calendar and the ending of Lent. As with the Catholic tradition of Easter, the holiday celebrates the resurrection of Christ. Painted eggs, mostly red for the blood of Christ, are an important element in the custom. Participants spend the entire night at church services. Easter bread and wine are also allowed on this most precious celebration in Christian theology. All food and wine are sprinkled with Holy Water as a blessing for fortune, good health and prosperity.
Holy Trinity Day is celebrated fifty days after Easter. While Christian in nature, the practice actually comes from the Judaic celebration of the Feast of the Harvest. Attendants of the festival visit the tombs and graves of their relatives, leaving food at the stones. This combination of birth (harvest) and death, reminds the Ukrainians of the cycle of life.
Independence Day is celebrated on August 24 in memory of the decline of ancient Ukraine and the meteoric rise of the nation as it is today. Independence day is the largest state holiday, declaring the sovereignty of the Ukraine from the Soviet Union. Much as the United States celebrates the Fourth of July with fireworks, music and parades, so do the Ukrainians.
Ivan Kupajla Day, July 6 is celebrated in honor of the “God of the Sun" or Dahzbog. Kupajla is the name given to the celebration of dark forces consumed by the strong summer sun. Kupajla is the “God of Fertility." In a country dependent upon agriculture and self-sustaining farming, this celebration has deep-seeded significance in Pagan philosophy. Traditional ceremonies include gathering of medical herbs. These flora are used not only in folk medicine but also to ward off evil spirits. On Kupala’s night, bonfires are lit to keep witches and evil spirits from casting doom on the harvest.