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Ukrainians living in N.B. react to celebrating Christmas in December for the first time

Oksana Tesla, the president of the Ukrainian Association of Fredericton, started preparing a traditional Christmas Eve meal with her mother on Dec. 23.

On a side table was a candlelabra holding three beige candles. Tesla said those candles sit at the centre of the table during their Christmas Eve meal. They symbolize hope and life, the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the new year.

Many Ukrainians around the world are celebrating Christmas in December, for the first time.

Traditionally, Ukraine and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church celebrate Christmas Day on Jan. 7, like Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church. But this year Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy changed the day of the celebration to Dec. 25.

“This is the original Christmas that our grandparents and great-grandparents used to celebrate,” Tesla said.

This is Grade 12 student Viktoriia Kyrychuk’s second Christmas in Canada, but it will be her first time observing her family’s Ukrainian traditions in December.

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“I’m really glad that we changed our calendar again, because I know the history, why it was changed before and now it came back to our usual tradition,” she said.

Christmas deeply religious and cultural

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic church is now also celebrating Christmas on Dec. 25. Not all Ukrainian Orthodox parishes have switched their calendars yet. Tesla said Ukrainian traditions during the holiday have deep cultural and religious roots. She sees the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s change as a mark of its independence from the Russian Orthodox Church.

“Let’s say the government would announce that we are moving Christmas to December, the church would really need to say the word,” she said.

The Christmas season is also a reminder of what’s been lost.

“It’s time to be happy, to celebrate, to meet the family, but because of the full-scale war that happens in Ukraine right now, it’s also a sad one,” Tesla said.

It’s Kyrychuk’s second Christmas without her father, because he can’t come to Canada.

“All Ukrainians, they felt that today you can have everything, but you don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”

She said this year is a time to be with family.

“Before, we were telling about Christ, how he was born, we were telling history, singing Christmas songs, but now it is just family time,” she said.

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