KYIV: Many Ukrainians will on Monday celebrate Christmas Day on December 25 for the first time, after the government changed the date from the Orthodox Church observance of January 7 in a snub to Russia.
Ukraine passed a law in July moving the celebration to December 25, the day when most of the Christian world marks Christmas.
The law signed by President Volodymyr Zelensky noted that Ukrainians wanted to “live their own life with their own traditions and holidays”.
It allows them to “abandon the Russian heritage of imposing Christmas celebrations on January 7”, it added.
Christianity is the largest religion in Ukraine, with the Russian Orthodox Church dominating religious life until recently.
Like the Russian Church, most eastern Christian churches use the Julian calendar, dating back to Roman times, rather than the Gregorian calendar used in everyday life.
The date change is part of hastened moves since the war to remove traces of the Russian and Soviet empires, such as renaming streets and removing monuments.
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine, a newly created independent church that held its first service in 2019, has also changed its Christmas date to December 25.
It formally broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The political rift has seen priests and even entire parishes swap from one church to another, with the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine growing fast and taking over several Russia-linked church buildings in moves supported by the government.
The historically Russia-linked Ukrainian Orthodox Church, meanwhile, is keeping the January 7 Christmas date. This church claims to have cut ties with Russia because of the war but many Ukrainians view this with scepticism.
The country’s third Orthodox denomination, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, will also hold Christmas services on December 25.
Ukraine had been under Moscow’s spiritual leadership since the 17th century at the latest.
Under the Soviet Union and its profession of atheism, Christmas traditions such as trees and gifts were shifted to New Year’s Eve, which became the main holiday and still is for many families.
Ukrainian Christmas traditions include a dinner on Christmas Eve with 12 meatless dishes including a sweet grain pudding called kutya, and people decorate homes with elaborate sheaves of wheat called didukhy.
In some areas, children go from house to house singing carols called kolyadky and performing nativity scenes.