Christmas Eve

What kind of holiday is this?

Unlike Christians of the Western rite and most Eastern churches, who celebrate Christmas on December 25, Orthodox Christians and Greek Catholics of Ukraine celebrate Christmas on January 7. This is due to the use by churches of two different calendars – Julian and Gregorian. Christmas Eve, or Christmas Eve according to the Julian calendar also falls on December 24, but according to the civil (or Gregorian) calendar, this day falls on January 6. It is a day of waiting for an important and joyful event – the birth of Jesus Christ. On January 6, until the Holy Supper itself, believers observe a particularly strict fast. Christmas Eve separates the forty-day Christmas or Philip fast and the period of Christmas holidays, which lasts 12 days.

How the idea of ​​the celebration came about Christmas Eve?

An extraordinary, magical event is associated with Christmas Eve – the birth of the Savior. Christians know about this event from the evangelists Matthew and Luke.

Birth of Jesus Christ

The birth of Christ was predicted several centuries ago by ancient prophets, and it took place in the city of Bethlehem, where the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph came to participate in the population census. All the houses of Bethlehem were full of visiting people, and the couple stopped for the night in a barn where sheep lived. Jesus was born there at midnight. The newborn was placed in a sheep feeder – a manger paved with hay.


The first news about the birth of a new king was received from an angel by shepherds tending their flocks near the city. They were the first to see Jesus and told the news to all the people they met.

Following the shepherds, three Babylonian sages came to the newborn, and a new star shining in the sky showed them the way. The wise men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus as a gift, thus honoring the king, God and man in the baby.

Of course, no one knows the exact date and time of Christ’s birth, but the Christian Church believes that it happened at midnight on December 25. Accordingly, Christmas Eve should be celebrated on December 24 – Christmas Eve. Why does Christmas Eve come on January 6 for Orthodox Eastern rites?

Julian calendar

The Julian calendar, as its name suggests, was introduced by the Roman emperor Gaius Julius Caesar. This happened in 46 BC, and before that the Romans used a calendar based on the phases of the moon. The new annual calendar, more accurate and improved, was based on the movement of the Sun’s orbit relative to the Earth and consisted of 365 ¼ days and twelve months. December 25 was the winter solstice in this calendar.


Although the Julian calendar gained acceptance, it contained a significant error – each calendar year exceeded the length of the solar year by 11 minutes and 14 seconds. By the time people started celebrating Christmas, this calendar was several days behind the solar calendar. And by the middle of the 16th century, the year had 10 “extra” days. As a result, the celebration of Christmas moved from the days of the winter solstice closer and closer to spring.

Gregorian calendar

To correct the situation, in 1545 the Council of Trent proposed to Pope Paul III to change the calendar. But it took almost 40 years to implement this decision. During the reign of Pope Gregory XIII, the astronomer Christopher Clavius ​​created an acceptable plan for reforming the calendar. In 1582, after making additional changes, Gregory XIII approved a new calendar, which received the name “Gregorian”. According to this calendar, the year became 10 days, 11 minutes and 15 seconds shorter than it was according to the Julian one.

Despite the fact that most scientists recognized the Gregorian calendar as correct, not all countries accepted it, because they considered it a threat to their established traditions. Among such countries was the Russian Empire, which included Ukraine.

In Ukraine, the transition to the Gregorian calendar took place only in 1918 by decision of the Central Rada. After the occupation of Ukraine by the Bolsheviks, the Gregorian calendar was also used. However, the church did not want to recognize the innovations of the Soviet government and continued to live according to the “old” Julian calendar. Meanwhile, the discrepancy in dates is growing, and since the 20th century it has been 13 days. That is, December 25 for some Orthodox churches comes 13 days later – so we have Christmas on January 7, and Christmas Eve on January 6.


Traditions of ancient Slavs on Christmas Eve

The traditions of the Holy Evening among our people were formed from the time of the baptism of Russia, but they are harmoniously combined with ancient Slavic, pagan customs.

Therefore, Christmas Eve for Ukrainians is to a large extent a tribute to the ancient cult of ancestors. For example, one of the main attributes of the holiday is the grandfather – a very ancient symbol, even before Christianity. There is a belief that the souls of ancestors find refuge in it, as well as the spirits of the family hearth and the good spirits of the wheat field.

In Christianity, the grandfather symbolizes the sheaf of straw with which Joseph closed the hole in the wall of the barn where Mary gave birth.

Christmas Eve in history

  • 1596
    January 6
    Bohdan Khmelnytskyi was born on this day.
  • 1846
    January 6
    One of the most famous poems of Taras Shevchenko was written – “Testament”.
  • 1870
    January 6
    Opening day of the famous Vienna Philharmonic.
  • 1938
    January 6
    On this day, the famous Ukrainian poet and dissident Vasyl Stus was born.
  • 1964
    January 6
    The governments of Great Britain and France concluded an agreement on the construction of a tunnel under the English Channel.
  • 2018
    January 6
    The Orthodox Church of Ukraine, represented by Metropolitan Epiphany of Kyiv and All Ukraine, received a tomos on autocephaly from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Frequent Questions and answers about Christmas Eve

What should be on the table during the Holy Supper, apart from the 12 fasting dishes?

A candle must be lit on the table as a symbol of faith in God, and a festive table cannot be without salt, which symbolizes harmony. Garlic is placed under the tablecloth at the corners of the table to ward off all bad things from the family.

What did our ancestors use to make a grandfather?

Grandpa was woven from ears of rye, wheat or oats, which were cut on the first or last day of harvest. Grandpa was decorated with wildflowers and colored ribbons, and brought to the house on Christmas Eve.

What can not be done on Christmas Eve?

The main thing is not to be outside the house this evening. It is also not desirable to leave the table until the end of the dinner, to argue and quarrel. On January 6, they do not borrow anything and do not offend anyone – and not only people, but also animals. It has long been believed that animals on Christmas Eve have the ability to talk.

Are there omens on Christmas Eve related to the weather?

The starry sky on Christmas Eve promises a fruitful summer, if it snows – many apples will be born, and if the moon is clearly visible – there will be many watermelons and melons.

How should you end the Holy Supper?

After dinner, the head of the family is the first to get up from the table. Everyone present should thank God for the past year and ask for prosperity in the coming year. Believers go to the church for the night service.

Postcards for Christmas Eve

Happiness and comfort to your home!  |  Greeting card - Christmas Eve cards

Delicious kuti!  Happy Christmas Eve!  |  Greeting card - Christmas Eve cards

Make a wish!  Happy Christmas Eve!  |  Greeting card - Christmas Eve cards

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🎁 Gifts for Christmas Eve

Diamond embroidery set Diamond mosaic "SEASONS: WINTER Set of diamond embroidery mosaic “SEASONS: WINTER”
Christmas decorative pillow 45*45 cm. BST Decorative pillow “Christmas”
Scented candle in glass Bispol Christmas 7 cm Scented candle in glass “Christmas”
Set of two cups "Golden Christmas" 275 ml, porcelain Set of two cups “Golden Christmas”, porcelain
Christmas gift towels Pavia New Year’s gift towels “Christmas”
Gift ideas for Christmas Eve

🎶 Christmas background music for a festive mood

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How to celebrate Christmas Eve?

In Ukraine, January 6 is dedicated to God, family well-being and honoring ancestors.

With the appearance of the first star in the sky in homes, the Holy Supper begins. The table is covered with two tablecloths: one for the living, the other for those relatives who have already passed away.

This custom came from pagan times, when dead ancestors were considered good spirits who, with due respect for them, protect their descendants. A free place at the table is also left for the souls of the dead.

There is always some hay under the table or under the tablecloth – as a reminder of the birthplace of Jesus Christ. In the center of the table is placed a Christmas loaf, which has a shape woven from three rings. The three rings symbolize the Trinity, and the round shape of the bread means eternity. Grandfather – a sheaf of wheat – is placed under the icons in the house. Next to him, the head of the family puts a vessel with kutya – the most important dish of the Holy Supper.

After all the preparations are completed, the oldest man in the family begins to recite a prayer for the dead, which is joined by everyone present. After her, the prayer for the living begins, and after that the family begins to have dinner.

  • The twelve Lenten dishes on the table are kutia, borscht, fish, porridge, beans, mushrooms, cabbage, dumplings, nalysniki, cabbage rolls, pies and uzvar. Alcohol is not consumed on Christmas Eve.

Dinner is always started with kuti, and after dinner it is not removed from the table – it is left for the souls of the dead. They also leave a candle burning.

In the center, south and east of Ukraine, children usually bring dinner to their relatives – grandparents, godparents – on this evening. In return, the child receives sweets and small money.

Why do we love this day?

Everyone knows that waiting for a festive event is no less pleasant than the holiday itself. Therefore, the day of January 6 is filled with a special mood for us – anticipation of Christmas.

Christmas Eve is a symbol of family, love and comfort. He unites close people, gathering them together. On this day, more than ever comes the realization that, in fact, everything is already there for happiness – a cozy home, a friendly family, delicious meals on the table. And the most important thing is the love of native people, which cannot be bought with all the money in the world. It is on this day that it is much easier for us to forgive those who have offended us – loved ones or strangers.

From the very morning of January 6, we try to guess what we will receive as a gift and worry whether the festive dinner turned out to be delicious. But this is a pleasant excitement, like all other preparations for this holiday. It is joyful and important Christmas Eve for children – in addition to the pleasure of receiving gifts, they join in a joint celebration and learn to value and respect their family.

The very essence of Christmas Eve forces us to become kinder and remember God – even those who do not often go to church. Usually we ask God for gifts for us, but on the eve of Christ’s birth, we think about what we can give him. The best gifts for the Son of God on Christmas Eve are our good deeds, love and purity of thoughts.

When will we celebrate? Christmas Eve?

Year Date Weekday
2021 January 6 Wednesday
2022 January 6 Thursday
2023 January 6 Friday
2024 January 6 Saturday
2025 January 6 Monday

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