A tale of Two Christmases

Most who celebrate Christmas do so on December 25th because that’s when Christ was born according to the Gregorian calendar. Pope Gregory XIII adopted his namesake calendar in 1582 to correct an error in the Julian calendar introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. The Romans had miscalculated the solar year by a few minutes and over the next 1500 years, their calendar was off by thirteen days.

What day is it anyway?

What does all of this have to do with Christmas today you might ask? Well, when Pope Gregory changed the calendar he did so for only the western, or Roman Catholics. Eastern, or Orthodox Catholics had a different leader. Patriarch Jeremias II oversaw the Catholic church in Constantinople, modern day Istanbul which had been the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire since 330 AD.

Patriarch Jeremias had no interest in following his competitor in Rome, so to this day Orthodox Catholics still follow the Julian calendar which remains 13 days out of sync. Christmas day for Orthodox Catholics is celebrated on January 7th, and New Year’s on January 13th. 

Christmas, then another Christmas

Ukraine is a primarily an Orthodox country so for centuries Ukrainians have celebrated Christmas on January 7th just like their larger cousin to the East, the Russian Orthodox church. Heck, my Ukrainian family back in Canada are Orthodox and they’ve always celebrated Christmas on January 7th. The Christmas season is very special for any mixed-Ukrainian family because you’d celebrate Christmas on December 25th, and then again on January 7th, with a festive dinner and often another round of presents.

However, Russian language, music and television are no longer popular or acceptable in Ukraine since the Donbas invasion of 2014, and even less so since the full-scale invasion of February 24, 2022. For years Ukrainians have been distancing themselves from Russia, and the date to celebrate Christmas is just another way to cut the cord.

Cutting the ties that bind

On December 30, 2022, the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and Information Policy conducted a survey of Ukrainians through their national digital identity app, Diia. 1.5 million people took the survey and a resounding 60% voted to celebrate Christmas each December 25th, further distancing themselves from anything associated with Russia.

When to celebrate may seem like a silly thing to consider during wartime, but when death & destruction have become everyday life for so many Ukrainians, even the little decisions count. Moving Christmas is another rejection of Russian power and influence, and an indication of just how strongly the Ukrainian people would rather be associated with Western Europe.

Just as the three wise men followed a star to guide them to Bethlehem and baby Jesus, over 2000 years later, the people of Ukraine are looking for a star to guide them into the welcoming arms of Europe. Well, it’s more likely a HIMARS rocket that the Ukrainians are following, but anything that illumintes the black, Russian-controlled sky is a wonderful and hopeful sight to the brave people of Ukraine.