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For the second time in the midst of an invasion by Russia, Ukrainians celebrated the lighting of a Christmas tree in the center of the capital, Kyiv. But for the first time, the annual ceremony took place on a new date.
Following tradition, the main Christmas tree in Kyiv was illuminated on the feast of St. Nicholas. But prior to this year, that feast was celebrated in Ukraine on December 19, according to the Julian calendar.
In July, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a law moving the official Christmas Day holiday to December 25, distancing Ukraine from the Russian Orthodox tradition of celebrating the Nativity on January 7.
An explanatory note attached to the law said the goal of the legislation is to “abandon the Russian heritage,” including that of “imposing the celebration of Christmas” on January 7. It cited Ukrainians’ “relentless, successful struggle for their identity” and “the desire of all Ukrainians to live their lives with their own traditions, holidays,” according to the Associated Press.
In addition, both the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church opted this year to follow the Gregorian calendar, with Christmas on December 25, St. Nicholas Day on December 6, etc.
Thus the lighting of the tree took place on December 6.
There had been some question whether there would be a ceremony this year, as there is still a ban on large gatherings during wartime. Kyiv’s Defense Council approved the installation of the tree but, like last year, there were no food courts or large-scale celebrations, according to Evening Kyiv.
Still, thousands of people came to the square in front of the historic Church of St. Sophia to witness the lighting.
“I would like to congratulate each of you, Kyiv residents, especially children, those who came to St. Sophia Square today, on the holiday, on St. Nicholas Day,” Mayor Vitali Klitschko, a former boxing champion, told those gathered. “Every year, on St. Nicholas Day, we light the lights on the country’s main Christmas tree. There are different opinions about whether it is worth doing this in times of war. Putin and his barbarians want to intimidate Ukrainians and drive them into depression, deprive our children of their future and moments of celebration and joy – but they will not succeed! We are grateful to the defenders who are fighting on the front lines for the independence of our country. We congratulate them on the Day of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”