An Orthodox faithful meditates in the lavra of the kyiv Caves, a majestic Orthodox monastery founded in the 11th century. (File photo)
In Odessa, a large port city along the Black Sea, several dozen people gathered for religious services at the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ. Inside the building, two large Christmas trees decorated with blue and sparkling garlands sit in front of the golden icons.
War in Ukraine
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This is the first time in the modern history of Ukraine that Orthodox believers will celebrate Christmas synchronously not only with Catholics but also with Greek, Romanian and Bulgarian Orthodox on December 25 and not January 7 of the civil calendar, as was traditional until then.
The Russian Orthodox Church has in fact kept the old Julian calendar for religious holidays, shifted by 13 days, which places December 25 and the celebration of Christmas on January 7 of the civil calendar.
We really want to celebrate this holiday in a new way. It's a celebration with all of Ukraine, with our independent Ukraine, Olena explains to AFP.
Her son, she says, volunteered for the Ukrainian army from the first day of the Russian invasion, February 24, 2022, and is currently in the Kherson zone as military nurse.
We really need to celebrate Christmas with the whole world, far, far away far from Moscow.
A quote from Olena, a Ukrainian
Last July, Volodymyr Zelensky formalized the move of Christmas celebrations from January 7 to December 25, a decision that is part of a series of measures taken by Ukraine to distance itself from Moscow in the midst of a Russian invasion which has been going on for almost two years.
The text voted on by Ukrainian deputies then explained that Ukrainians wanted to live their own lives with their own traditions and their own holidays.
This is a way, the text also noted, of abandoning the Russian heritage which imposed Christmas celebrations on January 7.
For Oleksandr Bubnov, a regular at the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ in Odessa, if everyone agrees [to change the date ], this will easily spread throughout the country as a new tradition. The transition was easy, he assures.
Last July's law thus illustrates the gap that has widened between the Churches of Kiev and Moscow for several years, reinforced by the invasion Russian.
In Lviv, an area in the west of the country generally spared from Russian strikes, Taras Kobza is delighted with the change of date, our path, he swears, to move away from Russia. We must rejoin the civilized world, he adds after a religious procession through the streets of the city, dressed in his military uniform.
It's really great, enthuses Tetiana, a singer in a traditional musical group. I am very happy that we are finally celebrating New Year's Eve and Christmas with the rest of the world, she said.
It's natural, that's how it should be, continues Zoryana, her friend, typical colorful scarf on her head.
Placed for several centuries under the religious supervision of Russia, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was declared autocephalous and independent of the Moscow Patriarchate in 2019.
Ukrainian soldiers enjoy traditional donuts during a Christmas vigil in Lviv on December 24, 2023.
In May 2022, the Ukrainian Church that remained loyal to Moscow also declared its independence in response to support for the war expressed by Russian Patriarch Kirill.
A handful of Orthodox churches around the world, including those in Russia and Serbia, still use the Julian calendar for their religious celebrations and not the Gregorian calendar, designed in the late 16th century.
During the Soviet era, authorities advocated atheism, and Christmas traditions, such as trees and gifts, were moved to New Year's Eve, which became the main holiday and still is for many Ukrainian families.
On Christmas Eve, Ukrainians have a tradition of sitting at the table in the evening with 12 meatless dishes, including koutia, a dessert made from boiled wheat grains, honey, raisins, crushed nuts and seeds poppy.