Christmas traditions in Russia and Ukraine are quite similar and have common roots. In these countries Christmas is considered the most important family holiday of the whole year and is celebrated solemnly and merrily, according to ancient customs that have come down through the ages and are still observed today.
Russian and Ukrainian Christmas is celebrated on January 7 according to the Gregorian calendar. The Christmas season begins with advent – four weeks of fasting and preparing one’s self for the birth of Christ. In preparation for the big event, the house is cleaned from top to bottom and the Christmas tree is decorated with various knick-knackery and sweets.
The Christmas Eve in Russia and Ukraine is called ‘Sviata Vecheria’ (Holy Supper). Dinner table has a little hay on embroidered tablecloths to symbolize the manger of Bethlehem where Christ was born. Children announce the appearance of the first Star in the eastern evening sky, that symbolizes the trek of the Three Wise Men, and the dinner is begun.
The meal served for the Holy Supper is lenten, but festive. People usually cook plenty of tasty foods for this evening and there should be at least 12 different dishes on the table. Those must include ‘Kutia’ in Ukraine — the ritual food which is prepared from cooked wheat and special syrup containing diluted honey, grated poppy seeds, raisins and sometimes walnuts. And ‘Pagach’ in Russia – a large round loaf of special lenten bread, which symbolizes Christ – the “Bread of Life”. After the Holy Supper families go to church for the Christmas Mass which lasts until after midnight.
According to another custom people sing ‘Kolyadky’, Russian and Ukrainian Christmas Carols. This old tradition of caroling is carried on by groups of young people and members of organizations and churches calling at homes and collecting donations, also little gifts, fruit and sweets.
In Russia and Ukraine there also exist a tradition of ‘Ded Moroz’ (“Grandfather Frost”). He is accompanied by his granddaughter ‘Snegurochka’ (“Snowmaiden”). According to a legend, he travels in a magical decorated sleigh drawn by three white horses, and delivers Christmas gifts to children.
Generally speaking, Russians and Ukrainians take pleasure in giving and receiving presents and spend a lot of money on them. However, Christmas gifts are not as common in Russia and Ukraine as New Year Gifts, though this tradition is beginning to root itself in these countries as well.
When selecting a Christmas gift to Russia and Ukraine for your friend or business associate, remember that a big impressive gift is the most welcome one. Avoid giving gifts such as pencils, pens, lighters (unless they are expensive), cheap wine or vodka, notebooks, etc. Beautifully decorated Christmas gift baskets is the most appropriate gift. These can include Christmas Gourmet Baskets, Christmas Fruit Baskets, as well as Wine Baskets and Champagne Baskets perfect for business and corporate gifts or for men. Chocolate Baskets and Flower Baskets are ideal for women and as a romantic gift. When choosing a Flower Basket make sure you have an odd number of flowers, as even numbers are only included in sympathy arrangements.
If there are children in the family you are sending a Christmas gift basket to, it is advisable to present them with a small gift, such as a plush toy or sweets.
Be lavish with your Christmas gift to Russia or Ukraine and your generous gesture is sure to be appreciated!