Ukraine, the dispute over Christmas

Ukraine, the dispute over Christmas


Among the victims of the latest Russian missile raids in southern Ukraine were half a dozen in Kherson . When the writer spent a few days in mid-February in the city, he often went to the Silipo brand supermarket which in a recent photo appears gutted, surrounded by ambulances and corpses. When many Westerners commented piteously on the situation, some spoke of a “Christmas massacre” or “Ukraine without peace even at Christmas”. The victims of the attacks certainly had much else to think about, but in some cases the observation was the same as that provided by Serbian basketball player Nikola Jokic to a journalist who made the same mistake: "It's not my Christmas, but Merry Christmas !” .

The vast majority of Ukrainians, being of the Orthodox religion, like the Serbs and the Russians, celebrate "their" Christmas on January 7 and not on December 25. In short, for the Ukrainians those missiles fell on a tragic day like any other, and the fact that the Russians bombed while much of the Western world was celebrating Christmas does not have the symbolic value one might believe. For almost all Ukrainians, the time for prayer and recollection will come only in a few days.

We say "almost all Ukrainians", because this year everything could change. More and more Ukrainians of the Orthodox or Greek faith catholic (widespread especially in the west of the country) have promised to celebrate Christmas on December 25, like hundreds of millions of Christians in the rest of the world, as a sign of distance from everything that even remotely smells of Russian. approval of their local churches.

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Symbol of breakdown

The idea of ​​commemorating the birth of Jesus in December would have been considered heresy in average Ukrainian families until recently, but the invasion of 24 February last had a disruptive cultural effect: in the use of the language, respect for historical monuments and in the daily mentality.

Already in the autumn, the leaders of the Church Orthodox Church and the Greek-Catholic Church of the country have sealed their intention to definitively harmonize their calendars with those of the rest of the Catholic West, authorizing the celebration of Christmas on December 25, subject to the approval of the city community of reference.

It is a choice linked to the repeated blessing of Russian President Vladimir Putin's "special operation" by the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, headed by Kirill, which has always claimed its sovereignty over the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Nonetheless, the patriarch did not hesitate to read in the war an unrepeatable opportunity to teach a lesson to a Ukraine in the hands - according to him - of the Nazis and the lgbtq+ lobbies, whatever the cost. A position that, within Christianity, Pope Francis has always and repeatedly rejected forcefully, trying in vain to make Kirill think, reiterating to him that "the Church must not use the language of politics, but the language of Jesus".
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New calendar

And so, in the wake of a schism already mentioned before the Russian invasion, many Ukrainians have promised to celebrate Christmas on December 25, instead of January 7. Or maybe on both dates, so as not to upset the more traditionalist relatives too much. Families split up, argue, tear apart. It also depends a lot on the territories: in the oblasts of Lviv, Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk, those furthest to the west, the most nationalist, bordering on Poland, where Greek-Catholics are a relative majority and Roman Catholics one out of ten, the change was quite natural. Even in the suburbs of Kyiv many villages have voted, after a quick consultation, for the adoption of December 25 as the new day to celebrate Christmas.

In the easternmost areas or in the south, bordering on those under occupation, on the other hand January 7 resists and above all indifference: Christmas matters relatively little, and the New Year is celebrated much more. It is however a great step, the one under way, because a separation with the rest of the Christian world that had lasted for centuries is recomposed, and the breaking of a bond with the Russians, also a secular one, is ratified. The choice of dates inevitably has clear political overtones, and seemingly slight revisions of rituals can have powerful significance in a culture war that runs parallel to the war of weapons.

Resistance remains strong. Only 11 percent of Ukrainians celebrate Christmas on December 25, a quarter celebrate both December 25 and January 7, and over half celebrate it on January 7, according to a survey published by the strongly anti-Russian and pro-government website EuroMaidan Press.

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A secular division

The division over Christmas is a classic of socialist history, which does not only concern countries in direct conflict . The Romanian Orthodox Church, for example, formally switched to the "Revised Julian Calendar" a century ago, so Christmas in December is both a liturgical standard and an established popular tradition. Not so in neighboring Moldova, which is one of five countries where December 25 and January 7 are both public holidays.

In Moldavia, the Bessarabian Orthodox Church follows the Gregorian calendar (December 25); the majority Moldovan Orthodox Church follows (like the Russian Orthodox Church) the old Julian calendar, where January 7 prevails instead: in Soviet times, celebrating December 25 was equivalent to a declaration of political dissidence.

Ultimately, the feeling is that the prevailing approach now in Ukraine is "live and let live", in order to reconcile rebellion against Russia and tradition. However, one cannot fail to notice how both the Ukrainian authorities and the allied countries of Kyiv addressed themselves with flashy and repeated greetings on December 25 with messages designed mostly for an international audience.

It is It is possible that a majority share of Ukrainians wants to join the European Union and the pro-Atlantic bloc, especially following the aggression, but this does not mean that the cultural and religious lifestyle has already changed or is on the way to change. Ukraine remains a country with a multicultural society.

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Recognizing that greeting everyone on December 25 is part of a public relations work by the anti-war front -Putin, we have to ask ourselves if a too abrupt elimination of January 7 doesn't cut off some segments of society. There is no contradiction, but only the cultural result of a very complex historical legacy and an intrinsic geopolitical ambivalence between East and West.

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