The Julian Calendar and Christmas in Ukraine
First, in America, we have combined Saint Nikolaus (Santa Claus) with the birth of Christ. Thus, Christmas is a time when Santa visits late December 24th to bring gifts, and then Jesus is born on December 25th. In the older traditions of Europe, however, these two events are separate. The real Saint Nikolaus was born in 270 AD in Asia Minor and became known for giving gifts.
The Netherlands adopted this idea of Saint Nikolaus (Sinte Klaas and his helper Black Peet) and popularized him in Western Europe. They celebrate Saint Nik’s Day in early December and have kept it separate from the celebration of Christ’s birth, so as to keep Christmas and its religious significance.
The Julian calendar was the calendar in predominant use in most of Europe until it was superseded by the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Since Christianity came to the Slavic world in 988, they already had almost 600 years of tradition. Thus, the Slavic countries of Eastern Europe continued to celebrate their fixed religious holidays according to the Julian Calendar.
Most people in Ukraine, Russia and other Slavic countries celebrate both December 25th and January 7th, with perhaps more emphasis placed on January 7th. New Years Eve remains the main time for exchanging gifts. Why? During communism, the Soviets abolished the religious significance of Christmas and had Father Frost and his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden, bring gifts on New Years Eve.
Ukraine uses the current calendar but retains the Julian calendar for religious holidays. Thus, they get to celebrate both! The result is that most businesses and government functions shut down December 24 – January 19.
Christians however, usually celebrate and exchange gifts on both December 25th and January 7th.