Since recently, Ukraine celebrates two Christmases officially. The Christians of Western Rite Orthodoxy marked the holiday on December 25.
The Eastern Christians celebrate Christmas Eve today, on January 6.
All Ukrainian Orthodox churches, the majority of the Ukrainian evangelical Christians, the Orthodox Churches of Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia and Georgia, ancient monasteries of Mount Athos, as well as Greek Catholics, the Armenian Apostolic Church and some groups of Protestants and Coptic Church celebrate Christmas on January 7.
According to the biblical narrative, this day, in Bethlehem, the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus. The shepherds were the first to worship a newborn. Later, the wise men arrived from the East.
Christmas Eve is the final day of Christmas fasting. Traditionally, this day, people could eat only lentil – the grain of barley or wheat boiled in water and later honey is added to it.
On Christmas Eve until the evening start, in other words, until the evening singing, usually, people do not eat and they even do not sit down for dinner. When the first star appears, which declared the wise men about the birth of Jesus, it is allowed to celebrate.
All members of the family should stay at home on Christmas Eve. It is said that if a person does not sleep at home this night, he/she would roam all over the world the whole year. It is not allowed to argue this day; instead, it is necessary to reconcile with enemies to bring peace at home and outside it. It is not allowed to drive away homeless, poor and lonely people as God may come for a dinner in the character of a poor man. The presence of a guest is considered to be a lucky omen and the masters tried to please a guest.
Our ancestors, on the eve of Christmas, brought a lock of straw and hay at home. Straw was put on the floor, while hay was divided into two unequal parts: the smaller one was put on the table; while the haystack was made from the bigger part and it was put under the table. A broken piece of pottery with embers glow put on hay, where bum incense takes place. The master and mistress with fresh festive bread, honey and poppy seeds bypassed a yard and barn, enveloping it with incense.
Besides, a didukh should be put on the table. It is a Ukrainian Christmas decoration made of rye or oat sheave decorated with colorful ribbons, candies, paper flowers, and a cluster of kalyna (Viburnum) – the predecessor of the Christmas tree. In the popular mind, it symbolizes the procreation and augmentation of prosperity. It was supposed to put charms under tablecloth: garlic to prevent unclean spirits from approaching the house; grain for good harvest and money for keeping of wealth at home.
Christmas carols are an inherent part of the Christmas celebration in Ukraine. They glorify the newborn Jesus. The singers of Christmas carols are walking from door to door, ushering good news – the birth of Jesus. All churches hold festive Christmas liturgies. The whole family gathers around the table and greets each other with words: ‘‘Jesus was born! Glory to him!’.
After dinner that might last up to four hours, it is not allowed to go to sleep, because it is considered that a person misses the Kingdom of God. In the early morning hours, after the third rooster shouts, when all evil spirits have no forces, a master could fall asleep but he should be on the alert, wearing clothes.
Our ancestors believed that if a man or boy would be the first to enter the house on January 7, the household is going to be lucky; however, if a woman the first to enter, it means that grief is expected in the household.