Christmas symbols and decorations
One of the most important and brightest family holidays in Ukraine is Christmas. There are plenty of magical Christmas symbols that define the spirit of the winter holidays and bring a joyful atmosphere around. It is no secret that the main symbols of Christmas in Ukraine are the Christmas star, didukh, nativity scene and carol.
As for the star, we perceive it as a common phenomenon, although this attribute embodies the symbol of the birth of Christ. The star is identified with Bethlehem, which announced the birth of Jesus and whose east is waiting for Christmas Eve. The octagonal star is a symbol of light, sun and God.
Another important symbol of Christmas for Ukrainians is didukh – it symbolizes the harvest, prosperity, wealth, immortality of ancestors, the spiritual life of Ukrainians and is a talisman of the family. Didukh – the spirit of grandfathers – is associated with the cult of ancestors, firmly rooted in Ukrainian culture. Creating a diduch is a very complex and delicate matter. Still, this Christmas decoration is so original and beautiful that it is worth all the effort!
A favourite symbol of Christmas for Ukrainians is the nativity scene called vertep. This theatrical act depicts the story of the birth of the Son of God. Having dressed up, people went to their homes and played their roles. Such playful actions combined two states of birth and death. Nowadays, a nativity scene is a truly unforgettable event imbued with the cheerful spirit of carnival culture.
And we certainly can’t forget about cheerful songs that make our Christmas celebrations even brighter. The concept of carols has a few meanings. First, it is a song of prayer announcing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, and carolers, in this case, represent the angels who tell this news. Secondly, the carol is a collective word for all Christmas holidays, i.e. used as a synonym for Christmas. Finally, there is one very popular Ukrainian Christmas carol that everyone has heard. It’s ‘Carol of the Bells’ with music by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych and lyrics by Peter J. Wilhousky. The song is based on the Ukrainian folk chant “Shchedryk”.
And what a holiday without traditional food? In Ukraine, several types of bread are baked to celebrate Christmas, including ceremonial bread stored during the New Year and Christmas holidays. Different flour products were baked in different regions under various names: kalachi, korochun, polaznik, shchedrak, host, knish, gingerbread, doves, etc. And as for now, this tradition remains.
All these traditional Christmas symbols don’t mean that Ukrainians don’t share the modern ones! Like the rest of the world, we love watching ‘Home Alone’ for the 10th Christmas in a row, dressing the Christmas tree and eating countless tangerines. Every city has its main Christmas tree, usually located in the city centre. And every official opening of the Christmas season gathers many people who feel and share warmth and magic.
Still, Ukrainian Christmas celebrations are centuries old and very meaningful to all Ukrainians. So while it’s great to learn about them, the best idea is to come here and experience them all for yourself!
Text by Kseniia Malyshenko and Mariia Zavada