Olga Karach, head of the human rights organization Our House, supported the action of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine to establish a single date for the celebration of Christmas. “This is an important step towards removing one of the many barriers still unfortunately separating Christians worldwide,” she said.
In both Belarus and Ukraine, Christmas is celebrated twice. The first time according to the Gregorian calendar is on December 25, the second time according to the older Julian calendar on January 7. Both of these dates are public holidaysю However, over the past year (not least because of Russian aggression) Orthodox Ukrainians tend to celebrate Christmas on December 25 instead of January 7.
The rapid increase in the number of believers willing to celebrate Christmas on December 25, alongside with the majority of the Christian world, is shown by all sociological surveys. On December 25, 2022, most Orthodox Christians of Ukraine first-time celebrated Christmas on that date. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine (PCU), which still adheres to the Julian calendar, has taken a very democratic approach to this issue this past year. Namely, in early December, it was announced that the question of which day to celebrate was left to the discretion of particular communities (church parishes). That is, as the majority of the parishioners of a particular church decide, that is how it is celebrated. The high clergy of the PCU, in their turn, simply held two Christmas Liturgies both on December 25 and January 7. That was a very wise decision.
Thus began the journey towards a single date for the celebration of Christmas. Now the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church have set up a special working group to reform the church calendar.
To understand what is going on, we need to remember history. The date of birth of Jesus Christ was approved back in 439, at the Third Ecumenical Council. Then the world lived according to the Julian calendar. But in the XVI century countries started switching to the Gregorian calendar, and at the same time extra days, accumulated over the centuries because of the inaccuracy of the Julian calendar, were removed. Belarus and Ukraine switched to the new calendar only after the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917.
But the Orthodox Church, which existed on the territory of the post-Russian empire, remained on the Julian calendar. That’s where this date shifting comes from. As a result, Catholics and Protestants celebrate Christmas on December 25. Also, Orthodox Greeks, Cypriots, Bulgarians, Romanians, Arabs, Albanians, Czechs and Slovaks. Orthodox Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Orthodox Poles and Serbs celebrate on January 7. In fact, 10 out of 15 Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on December 25 and only 5 celebrate it on January 7.
The discussion about when to celebrate Christmas in Ukraine and Belarus has been going on for many years. It is clear that there needs to be an internal church dialogue to resolve these issues. But every believer is an integral part of the church, so in the end it’s up to us to decide.
Not surprisingly the young and progressive part of our society strives to celebrate Christmas on December 25. We are talking about people who identify themselves with world culture, who go to Europe or at least want to move in this direction. For instance, Ukrainians began actively discussing the possibility of merging the two holidays into one immediately after the Revolution of Dignity.
However, in both Ukraine and Belarus, the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate (Russian Orthodox Church) are categorically against a single date for celebrating Christmas. They explain very simply why they celebrate Christmas on January 7, “It’s always been like this, and there is no need to change anything.” In reality, it is because they want both the Belarusian and Ukrainian peoples, as well as their churches, to remain subordinated to Moscow.
But there cannot be two Christmases. Jesus was born only once. If we have accepted the Gregorian calendar on a domestic, secular level, then the church should also accept this fact. Pretty soon this will become a new tradition that everyone will perceive calmly. In fact, it is already happening right now, regardless of the wishes of the hierarchs of the church.