Ukrainian Traditional Holidays

March 8 – International Women’s Day.

International Women's Day

On March 8 all the women in the world are celebrating International Women’s Day. A great day in history.  A great time to celebrate women and their special place in this world.

This holiday was originally called ‘International Working Women’s Day’. The first Women’s Day was celebrated on February 28, 1909 in the United States in accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. Women were calling for equality and justice. They wanted to have the same rights as men, and they wanted to be treated fairly.

In August 1910 an International Women’s Conference with over 100 women from 17 countries was organized in Copenhagen. German Socialist Luise Zietz offered an official celebration of an annual ‘International Woman’s Day’ (singular) to honor the movement for women’s rights. For the first time three women were elected to the Finnish parliament.

Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February 1913. Around the same time next year, women all over Europe were protesting the World War I.

In 1917, in the end of February women had a strike for “bread and peace”, after loosing 2 million Russian soldiers in the war. The political leaders were opposing the strike, but women went on anyway. Four days later the provisional government granted women the right to vote. That was a historic Sunday of February 23 (Julian calendar). With the implementation of the modern Gregorian calendar, the celebration was moved to March 8.

Since then, every year International Women’s Day has been celebrated in Russia, Ukraine and many other countries.

In Ukraine, International Women’s Day is one of the most important holidays. It is a celebration of women, and their feminine side. And yes, women do expect to be treated extra special. No cooking, no cleaning, and no serving on this day. It’s all about women, women, and once again women.  It’s a great time for the beautiful souls to finally relax and enjoy all the attention and care from the strongest half of this planet.

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Sunday of Forgiveness in Orthodox Christianity

The Lord Confronts the Disobedience of Adam & Eve; "The Expulsion from Paradise", Nave Mosaics from Palatine Chapel, Palermo, Sicily. Mid 12th Century.

The last day of Maslenitsa Week (Maslenitsa) is called “Forgiveness Sunday“. It is the last day before the Lent. This year it falls on February 26. It received its name from the Orthodox Christian custom at Vespers (evening prayer services in Eastern Orthodox Church) on Sunday evening right before the Great Lent, when all the people make prostration (poklon) asking each other for forgiveness. People hope that God will forgive their sins, and it’s only possible if people forgive themselves and each other first. Forgiveness Sunday also commemorates Adam’s expulsion from Paradise through disobedience, and it accentuates Christians’ need for forgiveness.

Growing up, I remember how my family was always asking each other for forgiveness on this day. We would just sincerely talk about all the things we’d done wrong, and how we were sorry for unintentionally hurting each other. After I got married, I brought this tradition to the US, into my American-Ukrainian marriage. Now, every year on Forgiveness Sunday my husband and I ask each other for forgiveness, and say how much we care, and love each other.

I think we should all ask each other for forgiveness on this day. No matter what religious beliefs you have, it’s simply a healthy thing to do. Life is too short for bearing a grudge, and keeping the negative energy inside of you. Let go. And forgive!

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Enjoy “Maslenitsa” and forget about diet for this week!

Galyna's home made "bliny"

This week, Slavic people are celebrating Maslenitsa (20th February – 26th of February, 2012).

Maslenitsa (Russian: Ма́сленица) is a Slavic (Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian) religious and folk holiday. It is also known as Butter Week, Pancake week or Cheese-fare Week. It is the seventh week before Easter (Russian: Па́сха, Paskha). The Orthodox date of Easter sometimes differs from the Western Christian Easter date. In 2012, for example, Western world will be celebrating Easter on April 8; and Orthodox Christians will be celebrating it on April 15. That’s why Maslenitsa week varies each year. This Slavic holiday is celebrated during the last week before Great Lent. Orthodox Lent begins on Monday after Maslenitsa. It’s very similar to “Mardi Gras” (Carnival Season), with the exception of Lent in Western Christianity beginning on Wednesday.

Maslenitsa is both folk and Christian holiday. It is a celebration of the end of the winter season and rebirth of sun. The main dish of Maslenitsa is bliny (pancakes), made from eggs, milk and flour (though original Russian blin is made from yeast and dairy products). People say that a “blin”/ “blintz” is round and golden like sun.

Galyna's home made "bliny" with cottage cheese filling

For Christians, Maslenitsa is the last week before the Great Lent. No meat is allowed during this week. Orthodox Christians can eat only dairy products, including cheese, that’s why the other name of this week is “Cheese-fare week”. During Lent, meat, fish, dairy products and eggs are forbidden, as well as music, dancing and parties. That’s why Maslenitsa is a great time to eat “bliny” (pancakes), and sing and dance before a 48 day long Lent.

Maslenitsa is a wonderful way to celebrate Slavic culture, enjoy the end of the winter, and for Christians to have fun before the Great Lent. Sunny “bliny” are warming up people’s hearts inside when it’s still freezing outside.

Here is an interesting video of  Maslenitsa celebration in Russia.

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The Day of Fatherland Defender

"Have you signed up as a volunteer?", by D.S. Moor (real name Dmitry Orlov), 1920.

On February 23, Ukrainian men are celebrating the Day of Fatherland Defender, which was originally known as Red Army Day (Russian: День Красной Армии / Dyen’ Krasnoy Armii.) It’s believed that the first mass draft into the Red Army occurred on February 23, 1918 during the Russian Civil War. Regular working class people were encouraged and most of the times forced to join the army. It was the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army. During the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922 the army consisted of communist combat revolutionary groups.

In 1922 this date was officially declared the Day of the Red Army.

Later it grew into the Soviet Union national army. In 1949, it was renamed into the Soviet Army and Navy Day (Russian: День Советской Армии и Военно-Морского Флота/ Dyen’ Sovyetskoy Armii i Voyenno-Morskogo flota).

After the Soviet Union collapsed the holiday was renamed into the Day of Fatherland Defender. Originally only soldiers, armed forces veterans, and law enforcement agencies celebrated this holiday. These days the Day of Fatherland Defender is not a public holiday. Though, people celebrate it as the “real men’s day”. Women give special attention to their men (family, friends, husbands, boyfriends). And men love celebrating it and of course getting all the attention and gifts from their loved ones.

The Ukrainian army has its own holiday “The Armed Forces Day” on December 6.

Here is the list of all the military holidays in Ukraine:

  • February 23 – The Defender Day
  • July 8 – The Air Defense Day
  • Last Sunday in July – The Navy Day
  • August 2 – The Airmobile Forces Day
  • August 8 – The Signal troops Day
  • September 7 – The Day of Military Intelligence
  • Second Sunday of September (September 9 in 2012) – The Tankman Day
  • September 14 – The mobilization serviceman Day
  • October 29 – The Day of finance officers
  • November 3 – The Rocket Forces and Artillery Day
  • November 3 – The Day of Engineers
  • December 6 – The Armed Forces Day
  • December 12 – The Day of Ground Forces
  • December 23 – The Day of all level operational control structures servicemen.

My best wishes go to all the men who defend and protect us, to all the manliest men!!!

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Happy Tatiana’s Day and Happy Student’s Day!

St. Tatiana

Have you ever wondered why all the Tatianas get to celebrate their own holiday on January 25th? Or what does this day have to do with Russian/Ukrainian students? Most people think it all started with Russian Empress Elizabeth issuing the decree ordering the establishment of the first university in Russia on January 25 (January 12 old style), 1755. However, its roots begin back in the 3rd Century.

At that time, Romans believed not in one but many gods. They tormented early Christians for worshiping one god. Whoever didn’t obey and didn’t want to accept Roman faith was severely persecuted.

The Holy Virgin Martyr Tatiana was born in a noble Roman family. She was raised as a Christian, and strongly believed in Jesus Christ. Later, she became a deaconess of the fledgling church in Rome. One day Roman authorities captured St. Tatiana of Rome and put her in a temple of Apollo, ordering her to make a renunciation of her Christian faith by making a sacrifice to the Roman deity Apollo (the son of Zeus and Leto, he was believed to be the god of light and the sun, truth and prophecy, music and poetry, plague and healing). Tatiana was continuously praying to Jesus Christ to help her. The legend says that after extensive prayers an earthquake hit the temple of Apollo, and the statue of Roman god broke into small pieces. The Romans didn’t see it as a miracle; they thought it was evil. Tatiana was then severely beaten, and cut with razors. They gouged her eyes, and continued to torture. She was praying, asking God to open torturers’ eyes to Christ. At that moment they saw four angels around Tatiana. All eight torturers kneeled in front of her asking her to forgive them for their sins. After seeing all that, they believed in Christ. The Roman authorities became outraged, and the next day they tortured and slain the eight men. Then they threw Tatiana into a lion’s cage. But, instead of tearing her into small pieces, the animal crawled down to her feet, and lay there peacefully. After several tries to kill the martyr, on January 25 (January 12 in Julian calendar), 226 the Roman authorities beheaded her. Tatiana’s Day was first celebrated in 235. It was another century before a Roman ruler Constantine I (324–337) became the first Christian emperor. In 380 Christianity was established as the official religion of the Roman Empire by Theodosius I. Christians have been celebrating Tatiana’s Day on January 25th according to Gregorian calendar (January 12 in Julian calendar). Since 235 all the women named Tatiana have been celebrating their name day, together with a very special memory of a brave devoted Christian martyr Tatiana of Rome.

Centuries later, Ivan Shuvalov, first Russian Minister of Education (the Maecenas of the Russian Enlightenment), together with Mikhail Lomonosov (Academician and Professor of Chemistry) proposed an idea of establishing a University in Moscow. On 25 January, 1755, the Empress Elizabeth (Elizaveta Petrovna) signed the decree that a university should be founded in Moscow. Ivan Shuvalov was the one who chose that date. His mother’s name was Tatiana, and of course she also celebrated her name day on January 25th. It was Ivan’s special gift to his mother. The church of Saint Tatiana was later built in the university campus, and the Russian Orthodox Church declared Saint Tatiana the patron saint of students. Later, the Emperor of Russia Nicholas I officially declared that day to be a holiday of all students, and not just the day of the university establishment. Also, school winter break started on January 25th.

I believe that if not for Ivan Shuvalov, and not for the University of Moscow, St. Tatiana’s Day would probably be another saint’s day in the Russian Orthodox Church calendar. Thanks to all those events in history, now January 25th is celebrated by Christians, all the students, and all Tatianas (Tatyanas).

Happy Tatiana’s Day and Happy Student’s Day to all the Christians, all Tatianas and all those who are acquiring new knowledge!

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Happy “Old New Year”!

Happy Old New Year!

Ukraine loves holidays, and the most popular holiday of the year is New Year! People have several New Year parties around that time- at work, with friends, family and relatives. They know how to celebrate! Ukrainians love New Year. They believe that all the troubles and problems will end when the “old year” ends; and New Year will bring happiness and joy, and definitely will be better than the old one. Most Ukrainians watch the celebration of New Year on the main Russian TV channel “Channel One”, which was the first television channel to broadcast in the Soviet Union. It’s been a tradition for many years to watch how the Kremlin’s Spassky Clock Tower chimes in the “new year”. Everybody counts together “five, four, three, two, one”, and yells “Happy New Year.” Everybody’s heart goes “bum-bum-bum.” Ukrainian/ Russian people say that if you make a wish, while counting down the final seconds of the “old year”, it will definitely come true. Another tradition that some young people follow is, during the count down of the final seconds, to write a wish on a paper, then quickly burn it, throw it into a glass of sparkling wine, and drink the whole glass right at 12 o’clock. The wish is supposed to come true. Even I did it couple times. And what’s funny, my wishes did come true. Coincidence? Maybe.

Ukrainians and Russians don’t celebrate New Year once a year. They do it twice! It is all thanks to a transition from Julian calendar to Gregorian calendar after the October Revolution in October 1917 (Julian calendar). The Russian government issued a Decree that Wednesday, 31 January 1918 was to be followed by Thursday, 14 February 1918. They dropped 13 days from the calendar. Since then, Ukrainians and Russians celebrate “Old New Year” on January 14, just like a century ago. It’s considered to be an informal traditional Slavic Orthodox holiday. On this day people usually get together with their families and have a nice family time with traditional holiday meals, singing and dancing. “Old New Year’s Day” ends a New Year celebration till the next year.

Happy “Old New Year”, everyone ! Hope all your dreams come true this year!

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Public Holidays in Ukraine

Ukraine has several public holidays. If a holiday falls on Saturday or Sunday, it is usually observed on Monday.

Ukrainian Flag

  • January 1 – New Year’s Day
  • January 7 – Orthodox Christmas
  • January 22 – Day of Unity and Liberty of Ukraine
  • March 8 – International Women’s Day
  • April 15 (in 2012) – Orthodox Easter
  • June 3 (in 2012) – Holy Trinity Day (Triytsya) – Orthodox Pentecost
  • May 1-2 – Labor Day
  • May 9 – Victory Day
  • June 28 – Constitution Day
  • August 24 – Independence Day

The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine (also called the Cabinet of Ukraine) announced that year 2012 will be a year of sport and healthy lifestyle in Ukraine.

On December 30, 2011 President Viktor Yanukovych declared January 22 as the Day of Unity and Liberty of Ukraine. He signed a Decree “On the Celebration of Some Memorable Dates and Professional Holidays.” He combined two holidays into one- Freedom Day previously celebrated on November 22, and Unity Day celebrated on January 22.

Also, Family Day was introduced, which will be celebrated annually on July 8.


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Traditional Ukrainian Christmas

It’s Christmas time

In Ukraine, there is no crazy-gift-buying-rush. No super sales and door busters. There is hardly any shopping buzz going on. Luckily for us, this holiday has not been commercialized like in some other countries (the United States of America for example). Instead, Ukrainians use New Year (January 1st) for gifts, lots of partying and celebration. New Year is The Holiday of the year. And Christmas is just a quiet family time. Time to pray, give, and visit with the ones you love.

On Christmas Eve, family gathers at the big table covered with a white cloth. There are typically 12 meatless dishes on the table. And the supper is called Holly Meal. In the center of a table there is a beautifully lit candle, and a loaf of round bread (any bread these days), symbolizing Christ Bread of Life. There is usually no turkey on Ukrainian Christmas table, and no pumpkin pie, or pecan pie like in the United States. The main dish of Holly Meal is “Kutia”, traditionally made with wheat (now rice or barley), poppy seeds, honey, nuts, raisins and dried fruit compote called “Uzvar” (traditional Russian/Ukrainian drink made of dried fruit). People also serve “borshch”, cooked potatoes, salads, and other special Ukrainian meals.

There is also a tradition for Ukrainian kids and young people to sing “kolyadka” (“kolyadky”- plural in Ukrainian) on Christmas. Equivalent in the U.S. would be Christmas caroling. A group of people gets together and visits different homes, singing “Kolyadky”, praising each home and its host or hostess, wishing them health and wealth. If you let them sing in your house, you should give them special treats like candies, chocolates, fruit, etc.

On Christmas day, kids visit their god parents and grand parents, bringing them some food. In return, they get gifts and/or money (anywhere from $10 to $30).

I personally love Orthodox Christmas because it’s a very quiet, peaceful, spiritual time with family and loved ones. And there is always “Kutia”, which I love so much.

I found a very interesting article about Christmas Eve service at St Mary’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Herkimer, NY. Click on this link to read more St. Mary’s Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas is preserving traditions

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September 1st, Day of Knowledge!

First School Bell on the "Day of Knowledge"

On September 1st Ukraine is celebrating Day of Knowledge. This year more than 416 thousand Ukrainian boys and girls will begin their “knowledge journey”. Schooling is greatly encouraged in Ukraine. Primary school net enrollment is about 97%. Literacy (people age 15 and over can read and write) rate in Ukraine is 99,7%. Most people have higher education, some even two. People value education! They say here that “knowledge is power” (in Latin “scientia potentia est”). That’s why Day of Knowledge is a special day for Ukrainians.

Ukrainian high school girls on the Day of Knowledge

In all the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries new academic year starts on this day. Every student, from first-grader to future college graduate starts a new school year. There is a tradition for a first-grader to “ring the first school bell”. On September 1st, 11th grader, a young guy, picks up a little girl and puts her on a shoulder, and walks, making a circle in front of all the students/pupils of a school. A first-grader rings the bell. In schools there is a bell ringing, signaling start or end of lessons. So, first bell ringing on September 1st symbolizes beginning of a new school year for first graders, and everybody who steps into a new academic year.

It’s a very exciting time for many children and their parents. Every school usually has a ceremony in a school yard. People give flowers to teachers, and beautiful speeches are said.

September 1stmorning is a very special time for everyone. For some it’s a first day at school, for some it’s the first day of the last high school year or college year, and for others it’s the worst day of the year- summer break is over, fun is over, back to strict schedule and lots of homework. No matter how they feel about it, everybody attends school on September 1. Usually there are not many classes on this day, except for higher education institutions, where there are several classes. Students get informed about new school year curriculum, and get homework. In the evening students usually celebrate Day of Knowledge with their friends.

Some schools have a dress code- white top, black bottom. Most of these girls have white blouses and black skirts.

Back in Soviet times the first class on September 1st was so called lesson of peace. Kids learned about World War II (1 September 1939 – 2 September 1945), and amount of loss for Soviet Union. Teachers would tell them about USSR been a peace loving state (which was a Soviet propaganda of course), and how everybody should be a patriot of their Motherland. By the way, Day of Knowledge became an official holiday in Soviet Union in 1984.

After Soviet Union collapsed post-soviet countries kept celebrating Day of Knowledge on September 1st. It is still an official holiday in Ukraine. Parents’ employers are encouraged to give a day off to those parents whose kids go to school on this day.

Ukrainian school girl.

This year on September 1st, together with school bells, all the church bells around Ukraine will be ringing. The Deputy Minister of Education and Science, Youth and Sports of Ukraine, Borys Zhebrovskyy, informed about this unusual event, and expressed his believe that church bell ringing would make kids’ journey happy and light; it will be like a blessing. Also he announced that school year 2011/2012 will end on May 25 in 2012 because of the Euro-2012 soccer championship held in Ukraine. For most schools it’s 10-14 days earlier than usually. Even though students are happy about having a shorter school year this time, teachers will make sure that they deliver all the knowledge to the kids they need.

I want to wish all the teachers and students a wonderful Day of Knowledge, and enjoyable school year. As Benjamin Franklin said once, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”.

Here is a You Tube video with a well known school kids’ song, that we all know and love. It’s been around for many years (since Soviet days)! And to many Ukrainian and Russian people it brings a lot of warm memories. “Uchat v shkole” (“Учат в школе” – “They teach us at school”)

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Happy 20th Birthday, Ukraine!

Flag of Ukraine

On August 24th Ukraine is celebrating its 20th birthday!

Twenty years ago in 1991 a new independent democratic country appeared on the world map. We are excited to celebrate 20 years of Independence of Ukraine!!  We are a country with more than fifteen centuries of rich and colorful history. Many people are happy to say: “We are proud to be Ukrainians! We are proud to live in independent country. We are still young; we are still learning how to live in this demanding world. We understand that it’s a long way to go, a lot to improve, a lot to understand, and a lot to prove. But we are happy to be living this life on our own, with our mistakes and our achievements! We are Ukrainians!”

Coat of Arms of Ukraine

Ukraine on the map of Europe

It had been a long way to independence. After Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, leaders of central Communist party tried to restore control over the USSR, and take down Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. They attempted a coup, known as August Putsch or August Coup. It was on Monday, August 19, 1991, when senior Soviet officials set up a State Committee for State of Emergency. Together with KGB conspirators they placed Mikhail Gorbachev under house arrest. They sent more than 4,000 soldiers, including 362 tanks, 427 IFV (infantry fighting vehicle) and APC (armored personnel carrier), plus about 250,000 pairs of handcuffs to Moscow. Most of local newspapers were banned, and most of TV channels went off air in Moscow. Only Communist media, newspapers, TV, and radio could safely operate.

A few more democratic members of the Soviet parliament issued a declaration in which they stated that an anti-constitutional coup was organized. They urged the military not to participate in it. Because all the mass media was controlled by Communist Party, they had to spread the news by flyers and hand bills. People came to the Soviet White House (parliament building of Russia), and tried to withstand the military force. Some got killed, many were wounded. People wanted change. People were scared, but they knew change was coming. They were strong. On August 22, 1991 troops and tanks were eventually pulled out of Moscow.

Ironically, both Gorbachev and the coup conspirators wanted to save Soviet Union from break, though their attempt failed.  But by then, it was too late!  Events in Russian and  other fourteen Soviet Republics had begun to take on a life of their own.  The Soviet occupied Baltic Republics had struggled against Soviet and Russian oppression.  Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were the first to break away for the Soviet strangle hold.  Ukraine, soon followed!

On August 24, 1991 the parliament of the Ukrainian SSR approved the Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine, with 321 votes in favor, 2 votes against, and 6 abstentions. More than 90 percent of Ukrainian people voted for Independence of Ukraine.

For many centuries, foreign powers like the Russian Empire, Kingdom of Poland, Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Turks, and Tatars, all occupied Ukraine from time to time. So, finally in 1991 Ukraine’s long journey to independence was coming to a happy end. People chose their first president of Ukraine (Leonid Kravchuk) on December 1, 1991.

Now about 45,778,500 people live in Ukraine. Ukraine is  the largest country in Europe! It shares borders with 7 neighbors: Belarus, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, and Slovakia. Of course this neighborhood influences demographics of Ukraine. Around 67% of population is Ukrainian, 30% Russian; the rest is Crimean Tatar, Bulgarian, Romanian, Hungarian, etc.

The largest cities are Kyiv (capital of Ukraine) 2,787 million; Kharkiv 1,441 million; Dnipropetrovs’k 1,006 million; Odesa 1,006 million; Donetsk 977,000 (2010).

Ukrainians are proud of their Black and Azov Seas, beautiful Crimean and Carpathian Mountains that rise above wheat and sunflower golden fields, and rivers of Dnieper, Dniester, Southern Bug, Desna, and others that run through Ukrainian body, like life-giving veins.

But most of all, Ukrainians are proud of their long history, rich black soil, melodious language, beautiful women, and their enigmatic soul.

Check out National Anthem of Ukraine “Shche ne vmerla Ukraina” (Ukraine’s glory has not yet perished).

Ukrainian national anthem

Shche ne vmerla Ukraina” became the anthem of the short-lived Ukrainian People’s Republic in 1917. In 1920, though, it was banned by the incoming Soviet regime. Shche ne vmerla Ukraina” became modern day Ukraine’s national anthem in 1992.

Click on these videos and discover Ukraine!

Proud to be Ukrainian

See how beautiful Ukraine is!!!!

Beautiful Ukraine

I am proud to be Ukrainian!

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