Ukraine celebrates Christmas at the country level in accordance with the Gregorian calendar for the first time. December 25 has been declared a day off in the country. The law to this effect was passed by the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) and came into force on December 3. The Orthodox Christmas celebrated on January 7 in accordance with the Julian calendar continues to be a national holiday as well. The current Ukrainian government said the move stems from the need to strengthen the country’s European integration positions and ensure the rights of Catholics and Protestants.
Many Ukrainians point to purely political motives of this law and view it as an attempt to put the common Christian Orthodox tradition that unites Russians and Ukrainians on the back burner. "This is an attempt to create a civilizational and humanitarian barrier between the Russian and Ukrainian societies," said Ruslan Bortnik, Director of the Ukrainian Institute for Policy Analysis and Management.
In general, the Ukrainian leaders do not conceal the true motives behind declaring the holiday, which is far from ensuring citizens’ religious rights.
Commenting on the law, Verkhovna Rada Speaker Andrey Parubiy said that Ukraine is thus "getting rid of Moscow’s mental occupation and returning to the family of free peoples of the world." Similarly, Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Alexander Turchinov who put forward this initiative back in 2015 noted that Ukraine "will now celebrate Christmas with the civilized world," which will give the country an opportunity "to break away from Moscow’s calendars and Russian imperial standards."
The Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly stated they are in favor of creating a single local church. "Celebrating Christmas on December 25 is an attempt to create the cultural environment and people’s tradition for a local church independent from the Russian religious center, which will be linked to December 25 rather than January 7," Bortnik said.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church reporting to the Moscow Patriarchate believes that the decision to declare a national holiday on December 25 is out of tune with the interests of the majority of Ukrainians. "By passing this decision, the Verkhovna Rada showed it could not care less about the Ukrainian people’s opinion, because, according to all sociological surveys, the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians celebrate Christmas on January 7," said Head of the Information and Education Department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) Archbishop Clement of Irpen.
For his part, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople earlier called on Ukraine’s top officials to prevent the authorities’ interference in church matters and inter-church dialogue.
The vast majority of Ukrainian citizens celebrate Christmas on January 7 rather than December 25. Moreover, 80% of Ukrainians consider the Orthodox Christmas the most significant holiday for them.
According to surveys, 76% of Ukrainian citizens recognize themselves as believers, most of them say they are Orthodox Christians. Of these 25% say they are members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reporting to the Moscow Patriarchate, 32% - of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reporting to the Kiev Patriarchate. The number of Greek Catholics in Ukraine amounts to 7.8%, Roman Catholics - 1%, Protestants - 1% and "just believers" - 6.3%.