Come and learn about the symbolism of Ukrainian Christmas traditions on this virtual field trip for kids– perfect for a homeschool unit or as part of a fun global education at home.
Ukraine has many wonderful holiday traditions centered around food, family, and religion. The gathering of family together to celebrate and visit is an integral part of the celebrations.
Note for parents: listen to the podcast episode Celebrating Christmas in Ukraine before helping to guide your children through this virtual field trip.
Table of contents
Christmas traditions in Ukraine have developed over the centuries from a blend of many cultures including both religious and pagan. Since Ukraine follows the Gregorian Calendar, their Christmas festivities run from January 6th to the 7th.
For those who are religious, on January 6th they begin a strict fast, where they do not eat any food until evening liturgy. The focus is on rest, attending church, prayer, attending confession, asking friends for forgiveness, and preparing the celebration meal.
On Christmas eve, they attend evening liturgy. Kateryna said, “It’s a very beautiful service with many I would say concert type chorals, candles burning the whole night and everywhere in the church you can smell honey, because candles are made of beeswax.”
Listen to Christmas carols sung by the Orthodox Christian Monks of the Svetogorskaya Monastery in Ukraine: https://youtu.be/0w4pBsPhoIk
More about the history of religion in Ukraine here: https://www.ukraine.com/culture/religion/
Also linked in the article is further reading about the 2 main religious sects: Eastern Orthodox and Catholics.
The Christmas Eve dinner is called Sviata Vecheria, or Holy Supper. It’s origins come from paganism but it has been adapted to represent Christian symbols. Twelve dishes, which represent the twelve apostles, are served along with red wine (symbolizing Christ’s Blood).
Vegetarian dishes are common for Christmas using mushrooms instead of meat. Traditionally, because of winter, meat would be scarce and hunting would be difficult. So having meatless meals is both traditional and practical. Fish dishes are also common but only a few dishes would be fish.
Here’s a great overview of some of the dishes that you could find: https://youtu.be/yywPL5BDyO8
You can try making one of the dishes below that are traditionally served at Christmas.
Kutia (wheat berry pudding): https://natashaskitchen.com/kutia-recipe-sweet-wheat-berry-pudding/
Bortsch (beet soup): https://natashaskitchen.com/classic-russian-borscht-recipe/
Holubtsi (stuffed cabbage using mushrooms instead of meat): https://natashaskitchen.com/golubtsi-recipe-a-classic-russian-food/
Kolach is a braided wreath shaped bread that represents Jesus and the Holy Trinity.
Watch kolach being made: https://youtu.be/nhH3bJD9-h8 or try making your own with this recipe: http://www.ukrainianclassickitchen.ca/index.php?topic=4961.0
More Ukrainian Christmas dinner videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sW6kN08fNG4&list=PLZMtK4C0iaA1LoqwaxPm_LFPOVKEoVIcJ
Koliada is a tradition that now mainly happens in villages and has been forgotten in the cities. Although kolyaduvannya used to be done only by adults, it is now often done by children.
Participants who are dressed up walk from house to house singing carols and offering greetings and well wishes for the new year. They also act out scenes from the Nativity. One very special person is chosen to carry a large star on a stick which symbolizes the Christmas star.
In return, listeners offer small gifts of money, food, or candy.
Ukrainian kolyadka video and a little information from the Ukrainian embassy in Belgium: https://www.facebook.com/UkrainianEmbassyBelgium/videos/287472925292586
Some pictures of a group participating in Koliada: https://af.inditics.com/%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%BB%D1%8F%D0%B4%D0%BA%D0%B8-%D1%83%D0%BA%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%97%D0%BD%D1%81%D1%8C%D0%BA%D1%96-%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%B4%D0%BD%D1%96-%D0%B4%D0%BB%D1%8F-%D0%B4%D1%96%D1%82%D0%B5%D0%B9/
More beautiful pictures here: http://igormelika.com.ua/moi-karpati/zhittya-buttya/na-rizdvo-u-krivorivnyu-kolyaduvannya-na-guculshhini
Video about how the village of Kryvorivnia does this: https://youtu.be/omvnbsBHAjQ
Carols in Ukraine are folk songs written for Christmas time.
The famous Christmas carol, Carol of the Bells, is a Ukrainian folk song traditionally that tells the story of a swallow who visits a family and tells them of all the bounty they will have. New lyrics were written by an American composer and the song became popular around the world.
More on Carol of the Bells: https://news.rice.edu/2004/12/13/carol-of-the-bells-wasnt-originally-a-christmas-song/
Here is a beautiful rendition of the original folk song sung in Ukrainian: https://youtu.be/ESJz7shz_z4
Another version from a Ukrainian choir with a bit of dance and incredible folk costumes: https://youtu.be/caIMVBzLOWg
This version has the subtitles with the original words translated into English: https://youtu.be/sN90_F6dOSM
Watch this modern take on a popular Ukrainian carol: https://www.facebook.com/gordii.starukh/posts/2689438804428845
Here’s a post with Ukrainian Christmas music: http://euromaidanpress.com/2017/01/11/a-ukrainian-christmas-music-playlist/
Video showing of an artist making Christmas figurines: https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/12/17/640953/Ukraine-Artist-Cotton-Wool-Christmas-Figurines
Learn how to make 3 different Christmas ornaments here: https://youtu.be/P7u1rjMfaR0
Here is a picture guide to show you how to make a beautiful Christmas star: http://levko.info/vlasnoruch/rizdvyana-zirka-z-paperu-vlasnoruch-robymo-rizdvyanu-vosmykutnu-zirku-svojimy-rukamy/
Look for more Christmas crafts here closer to the holidays: http://www.ukrainianmuseum.org/workshop.html
You can buy some ornaments from some of the shops here:
Baba’s Babushka: https://amzn.to/39fi7vF
Listen to the author read Baba’s Babushka: https://youtu.be/_BvbAmHjwVM
My Ukrainian American Story: https://amzn.to/3nvzqgO
The Spider and The Christmas Tree folk tale: https://www.vancouverchristmasmarket.com/spider-and-the-christmas-tree-ukrainian-story/
Read more about Ukrainian Christmas traditions here: https://ukrainianpeople.us/ukrainian-christmas-traditions/
And here: https://ukrainian-recipes.com/why-should-you-celebrate-christmas-with-your-family-12-lean-ukrainian-dishes-for-christmas-eve-and-10-interesting-old-christmas-traditions.html?fbclid=IwAR2ZJjzO3Sfbt-VSpDxYsAHRmK6kFWx5XaOvTK1bDnd7JRfgwxC3EItbsv0