My wife Katrusia and I wish everybody, our children and other relatives, neighbors and friends throughout the world a happy, healthy and prosperous new year, regardless of how they choose to observe it.
The observance of the new year in Ukraine underwent a fundamental change during and as a result of the over seven decades-long occupation of the atheist Russian Communist regime. The goal of the regime was to eradicate religion and religious customs, including the observance of Christmas and all traditions associated with it. In addition to persecuting individuals who observed any religious holidays, the national and local government and Communist party media were actively promoting alternate observances, in this case, promoting the observance of the new year with a Christmas tree (which was not called a “Christmas” tree), the Soviet equivalent of Santa Claus (called “Grandfather Frost”), the exchange of gifts and elaborate parties. The new custom became quite popular and this is how the new year is observed in Ukraine nowadays.
While many, especially the Communist party and “Komsomol” (Communist Youth League) members gave up their practice of observing Christmas, neither the religion nor the traditional observances of Christmas and other holidays had disappeared. Families continued to prepare the traditional Christmas Eve suppers (“Svyata Vecherya”), children and young people continued to gather and sing carols in public places and from house to house, and religious services were held either in the remaining churches or in private homes during the time when the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was outlawed. Many individuals, including schoolchildren, had to pay the price for their religious beliefs. Demotions and firings of employees were quite common, and arrests and sentencings also took place.
Since the restoration of Ukraine’s independence on Aug. 24, 1991, religion has taken its place in both government and private lives, and Christmas religious services and ancient Ukrainian customs and practices associated with Christmas are becoming more and more popular, but the once-considered strange, elaborate observance of the new year also continues.
While Jan. 1 is the beginning of the new year, both officially and in practice, Ukrainians have another special “old” new year, observed Jan. 14. That day is actually the “Jan. 1,” according to the “old,” or Julian, calendar. Some customs long associated with this “old” new year are still observed here and there; the most common is the “Malanka dance,” a party on Jan. 13, the day of St. Melanie (Malanka in Ukrainian). In North America, the Malanka dance is usually held anytime during the second half of January.
Atanas Kobryn covers the Ukrainian community for the North Port Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Neighbors — The Ukrainians
by Atanas Kobryn