Ukrainians love celebrations and honoring family traditions—so much so that the cycle of winter holidays in the Ukraine begins with the Feast of St. Andrew on December 13 and continues right through to Old New Year’s Eve on January 13.

The Feast of St. Andrew

Ukrainian people believe in miracles, and that’s probably why the New Year’s cycle begins with the mysterious, even mystical St. Andrew. According to traditional beliefs it is on St. Andrew’s Eve that young girls can get a glimpse of their destiny. On this night they talk to each other about their dreams as they try to discover the name of their future spouse, the date of their wedding, the number of children they will have. Many different kinds of celebratory props are used: drinks, foods, fire, mirrors and so on. Even today, the most modern young Ukrainian woman will make a wish before she goes to sleep or get together with her girlfriends to tell one another about their dreams.

The Feast of St. Nicholas

The warmest and most longed-for celebration comes a week after St. Andrew’s Day: St. Nicholas’ Day, on December 19. St. Nicholas, known as Mykolai in Ukraine and Santa Claus in many other countries, is considered the patron saint of children. Legend has it that he comes to good children and leaves them a gift under their pillows while they are asleep. The legend originated from St. Nicholas helping a poor man who had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried or worse. Hearing of the girls' plight, Nicholas decided to help them, but being too modest to help the family in public (or to save them the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to the house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the house.

In another version, Nicholas learns of the poor man's plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead; a variant holds that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry and the bag of gold fell into the stocking. This has translated to the modern day Santa Clause who slides down the chimney leaving gifts to good children under their pillows while they are asleep.

New Year’s

Like most countries, Ukraine greets the New Year in a festive spirit in hopes for a good year to come. This holiday is also linked to many purely known Ukrainian traditions. For instance, Ukrainians set up a decorative sheaf of wheat ears known as a “didukh.” Shaped like an old man, it is a symbol of the ancestors who protect the family throughout the year.

Ukranian bottle

In 2002, Coca-Cola Ukraine ran a competition among the students of the Academy of Arts to use the silhouette of the Coca-Cola bottle in a Ukrainian style. The winner was a young woman who decorated the bottle like a “didukh".

Prior to the feast in Ukraine people tidy up their homes, decorate their family rooms with fir trees and toys and buy food for the New Year’s Eve meal. The entire family and gathers around for the Holy Supper. Occasionally friends also join around the table to enjoy a big bowl of Olivier salad, a pickled herring Shuba salad, fish in aspic, meat dishes, and Coca-Cola.

New Year’s Eve is a special evening of fireworks, the scent of pine needles, bubbling champagne, and hopes for a prosperous future. .


In Ukraine, Christmas is celebrated on January 7. The evening before is known as Sviatvechir, or Holy Eve. On this evening, the family gathers for supper just as the first star appears in the heavens. The meal consists of exactly 12 meatless dishes. The centerpiece is "kutia," a traditional sweet dish of wheat berries or barley with ground poppyseed, honey, walnuts and raisins.

According to tradition, the family members must have at least a tiny nibble of each of the 12 dishes. In the past, after church on Holy Eve people would carry the Holy Supper to their godparents, grandparents and other family and then begin caroling. Today, children and young people keep up this tradition by going around to their neighbors, friends and relatives singing traditional "koliada" or Christmas carols. They sing in exchange for sweets and pocket-money. Caroling continues through January 8.

Ukraine meal

The Old New Year

Our ancestors, who were among the last to switch to the Gregorian calendar, did not want to part with such a familiar and beloved feast day as the Old Style New Year. And of course it gives Ukrainians all a great excuse to get together again for another festive dinner. For many people, the Old New Year is a simple family holiday that brings to an end the cycle of New Year’s celebrations.

January 13 is traditionally called Shchedriy Vechir or Bountiful Eve. On this day young people go around in groups singing “shchedrivky,” which are the New Year’s equivalent of carols. As they go around to their neighbors and friends, they also wish them happiness and success in the New Year.

Families that remember their traditions can turn the “shchedrivky” into a mummer’s play called “vertep,” with many different characters. The Vertep is a distinctive phenomenon in the development of theater in Ukraine. By tradition, it can either be a puppet theater out in the street or a live performance by people who act out the Birth of Christ and other religious stories accompanied by a singing choir.

Another very popular tradition on Shchedriy Vechir is fortune-telling. Many people like to know what the upcoming year has in store for them. This evening includes loud, gregarious  festive fortune-telling in anticipation of a successful year.

Ukrainians are a people who not only know how to celebrate but who also honor the traditions of their culture, handing them down from generation to generation, in the midst of an ever-changing contemporary world.