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Ukraine moves Christmas to be in line with the West

Christmas, December 25

Marina Demeshko | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 08/08/23

The move away from the Julian calendar signifies further distance between Ukrainian and Russian cultures, as Ukraine considers banning Russian Orthodoxy.

In a major shift away from Russian culture, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has moved Christmas to be concurrent with Western celebrations on December 25. Prior to this change, which has been made officially through national law, Ukraine followed the Julian calendar alongside the Russian Orthodox Church and other Orthodox Churches, which observe Christmas on January 7.

While the July 28 bill saw the state formally change the date of Christmas observation, the departure from the Julian calendar was first explored by Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which is independent from the Russian Orthodox Church. In 2022, the OCU permitted the celebration of Christmas on December 25, only to later announce that they would henceforth follow the revised Julian calendar, which permanently changed the date to the Western observance. 

This February, the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with Rome, voted to celebrate Christmas on December 25 as well.

The OCU is going to take a little time to fully transition to the new calendar, and has announced that individual parishes may decide which date to follow for the next several years.

The Ukrainian government, however, is not interested in a slow roll-out. Instead, President Zelenskyy signed a bill into law that firmly places the government’s observation of Christmas with the West. Nicholas Rudnytzky, professor of history and dean of academic services at Manor College in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, noted that much of Ukraine has already been celebrating Christmas on December 25, but he still called the government’s move “a huge cultural shift.”

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) has been trying to distance itself from the Patriarchate of Moscow, but for some the movement is not fast enough. The Church formally broke ties with the Russian Orthodox Church in 2022, after Patriarch Kirill of Moscow endorsed the Russian war in Ukraine.

According to OSV News, nearly 300 priests of the UOC-MP issued a letter calling for ties with the Russian Orthodox Church to be broken. This letter came after a Russian attack on Odesa saw the destruction of a historic cathedral. Two were killed and dozens more injured in the strike.

Now the Ukrainian government is considering banning the UOC-MP from operating within Ukraine. After changing the official date of Christmas, Ukraine’s parliament – called the Verkhovna Rada – debated draft legislation that would outlaw all religious organizations headquartered outside of Ukraine and “in a state that carries out armed aggression against Ukraine.” Reports are unclear as to whether or not this legislation will pass. 

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