Crowds flocked to one of Kyiv’s most beloved squares on Wednesday to see the capital’s main Christmas tree lit up to mark Saint Nicholas Day according to a new calendar celebrating Christmas on December 25.
With their military locked in the 21-month-old war against Russia, it was the first time many Ukrainians had marked the holiday under the new calendar endorsed by the country’s main Orthodox church to distance itself from practices in Russia.
“Even during these difficult times, we have the opportunity to come and see our Christmas tree in our capital’s center,” said Olesia Polyarosh, 29.
“Maybe not to celebrate, but to feel the Christmas spirit despite everything, that we still can mark it in our country,” she added.
A cheer went up as the tree’s lights were switched on in the square just outside the 11th-century St. Sophia Cathedral, while families sampled pancakes and mulled wine in adjacent kiosks.
Most Ukrainians are Orthodox Christians and the country’s main church agreed earlier this year to change away from the Julian calendar, under which Christmas is celebrated on January 7.
Most mainly Orthodox countries mark Christmas on December 25, but Russia and Serbia are among those that still celebrate on the later date.
Many in the square said they agreed with the changed date.
“We shouldn’t have anything in common with that country,” Polyarosh said. “Nicholas and our boys [service members] are holding the country together today. The tree is shining bright. It’s not too big – exactly what we need in these times.”
Engineer Kateryna Didyk, 32, said that it felt a bit early to celebrate Christmas, but that she had bought a tree on Tuesday and had started decorating it
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko symbolically lit the tree, saying private donations had funded it to enable public money to be set aside for the army.