Time to celebrate Ukrainian Christmas

By  Daniel Telech, Youth Speak News
  • December 20, 2007

My favourite holiday is Christmas and because I'm Ukrainian Catholic I celebrate it on Jan. 7 instead of Dec. 25.

Carolling or koliada is my favourite part with holy supper or sviata vechera coming in at a close second. At my parish, St. Joseph’s in Oakville, several groups gather each year with their lengthy lists of addresses and maps in hand and embark on a harmonic expedition of cheer and blessings.

On Dec. 19 we honour St. Nicholas at my parish. We have the saint himself visit and distribute gifts to all the youngsters while we celebrate with beautiful Ukrainian carols I've known since my early years at St. Sofia, a Ukrainian Catholic Elementary School in Mississauga.

To briefly explain the calendar discrepancy, when Pope Gregory XIII made revisions to the out of beat Julian Calendar in 1528, the Orthodox and Eastern rite churches held on to the old format for ecclesiastical purposes. As a result the Ukrainian Catholic child brought up in Canada is blessed with Christmas twice, in theory at least.

Pope John Paul II often said that the Catholic Church breathes with two lungs in the body of Christ: the east and the west.

Both the Roman Catholic and the Ukrainian Catholic Church are alike in terms of fundamentals views, but nonetheless there do exist interesting differences in expression and practice. The Ukrainian Catholic Church is under the jurisdiction of the Vatican and recognizes the authority of the pope, but it is allowed to function autonomously. 

The Ukrainian Church has its Canadian centre in Winnipeg, which was established by Pope Pius in 1956. Winnipeg being the centre of the Ukrainian Church is due in part to the history of Ukrainians immigrating to Western Canada in a series of three distinct waves from 1881 to post-First World War and again after the Second World War.

The interior of Ukrainian churches is very ornate and often  painted to depict biblical scenes and saints. The guidelines of colour and form are derived from the Byzantine rite. The brilliant artwork in conjuncture with the sung liturgy and potent incense create an otherworldly experience for churchgoers.

For all Catholics Christmas is a time to rejoice in Jesus, our Saviour, and through the blessed sacrament of the Eucharist we allow Christ to enter within us. This sacrament is represented differently in the east and the west. In the Ukrainian Catholic rite, bread specifically made with yeast is prepared, cut into small cubes, immersed in wine and distributed from the priest’s chalice in divine communion.

Now it’s time I share a bit of advice. If you encounter someone during the Christmas season, possibly in a hand-embroidered blouse, that greets you with: "Khristos rodyvsya!" ("Christ is born!") remember to answer: "Slavite Yoho!" ("Let us glorify Him!"). At this point you may or may not chose to add: “Slava Ukraina!” ("Glory to Ukraine!").

A difference in Christmas dates should not be an obstacle to our coming together in celebration. Let us all rejoice in Christ’s glory.

(Telech, 18, studies theatre at Toronto’s York University.)

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