Some Orthodox Ukrainians have decided to observe Christmas on December 25, 2022, like many Christians around the world, instead of January, 7, 2023.
Ukrainians usually celebrate Christmas on January 7, as the Russians do but some of them decided not to do so.
Their decision has to do with the ongoing war and it has been approved by their local church.
The idea of commemorating the birth of Jesus in December was considered radical in Ukraine until recently, but Russia’s invasion changed many hearts and minds.
In October, 2022, the leadership of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which is not aligned with the Russian church and one of two branches of Orthodox Christianity in the country, agreed to allow their congregants to celebrate on December, 25.
The choice of dates has clear political and religious overtones in a nation with rival Orthodox churches and where slight revisions to rituals can carry potent implication in the evident culture war.
The Russian Orthodox Church, which claims sovereignty over Orthodoxy in Ukraine, and some other Eastern Orthodox churches continue to use the ancient Julian calendar.
Christmas falls thirteen days later on that calendar, or on Jan. 7, than it does on the Gregorian calendar used by most churches and secular groups.
The Catholic Church first adopted the modern, more astronomically precise Gregorian calendar in the 16th century, and Protestants and some Orthodox churches have since aligned their own calendars for purposes of calculating Christmas.
The Synod of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine decreed in October that local church rectors could choose the date along with their communities, saying the decision followed years of discussion but also resulted from the circumstances of the war.
In 2019, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, granted complete independence, or autocephaly, to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
The Russian Orthodox Church and its leader, Patriarch Kirill, fiercely opposed the move, saying Ukraine was not under the jurisdiction of Bartholomew.
Symbol Of Separation From Russia
For some people, changing dates represents a separation from Russia, its culture, and religion. Individuals in a village on the outskirts of Kyiv voted recently to move up their Christmas observance.
A resident of Bobrytsia noted, “What began on February 24, the full-scale invasion, is an awakening and an understanding that we can no longer be part of the Russian world.”
In Bobrytsia, some members of the faith endorsed the change within the local church, which recently transitioned to being part of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, with no ties to Russia.
When a vote was taken last week, 200 out of 204 people said yes to adopting December 25 as the new day to celebrate Christmas.
Roman Ivanenko, a local official in Bobrytsia and one of the promoters of the change opined, “This is a big step because never in our history have we had the same dates of celebration of Christmas in Ukraine with the whole Christian world. All the time, we were separated.
With the switch, Ivanenko added, they are “breaking this connection” with the Russians.
In all the Kyiv region, Sunday morning in Bobrytsia began with the sound of sirens, but that did not deter people from gathering in the church to attend a Christmas Mass on December 25 for the first time. In the end, there were no attacks reported in the capital.
Anna Nezenko, 65, attended the church in Bobrytsia on every Christmas since the building was inaugurated in 2000, although it was always on January, 7th. She said that she did not feel strange doing so on Sunday, December 25, 2022.
“The most important is the God to be born in the heart,” she said.