A Foreigner’s Guide to Ukrainian Holidays

  • A Foreigner’s Guide to Ukrainian Holidays
Issue 63, December 2013.

A Foreigner’s Guide to Ukrainian Holidays

            For anyone from abroad that has spent any time in Ukraine, you know that Ukrainian people take a liking to celebrations. Indeed, the question in Ukraine seems not to be “When is the next celebration?”, but “What are we celebrating today?” For example, when days such as the Day of Professional Sergeants (Mar. 1) are celebrated, it can seem as though your friends are playing tricks on you and inventing reasons to celebrate from nowhere. (It also leads you to ask whether there is a day that celebrates “Unprofessional” Sergeants…) The list of celebrations is so long that I’ve found that Ukrainians can’t even keep track of the holidays themselves. So, for the benefit of all that care, here is a definitive guide to when to celebrate in Ukraine.
            Let’s start with the Christmas holidays. If you are a Westerner, it is likely that you celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25 and New Year’s on Dec. 31. If you are in Ukraine, you will probably also celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7 and New Year’s on Dec. 13. But why stop there? Many Ukrainians also celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day, which for Westerners is on Dec. 6 and for Ukrainians on Dec. 19. However, in Ukraine three Christmases may not be enough. Some Ukrainians also celebrate Epiphany (on Jan. 6), which, if you’ve seen how Ukrainians celebrate, is enough to make your liver run for cover.
            Surely, you might argue, December and January are full of celebrations in countries all over the world. Alas, Ukrainians haven’t even finished the winter holiday season yet as Maslenitsa (the celebration to mark the end of winter) kicks off a calendar full of event to celebrate in Ukraine. Let’s take national holidays as examples. In many countries, an independence day of some sort once a year is sufficient reason to celebrate patriotism. In Ukraine, there are three days: Constitution Day (June 28), Independence Day (August 24) and Ukrainian Cossacks Day (Oct. 14). Many countries recognize the sacrifices of their soldiers once a year, in Ukraine – 3 times: Men’s Day (formerly Soviet Army Day, on Feb. 23), Victory Day (May 9), and the aforementioned Ukrainian Cossacks Day (you get an extra day if you are a ‘Professional’ Sergeant).
            Now, you may be thinking that for every holiday in the West, there are three of the same in Ukraine. Unfortunately, that logic would be too simple. Ukrainians sometimes are very creative when it comes to celebrating something. Sometimes they celebrate activities, like Chess Day (July 20) or Day of Ukrainian Writing (Nov. 9). But what if you don’t like to do anything? In Ukraine, they have a back-up – a day to celebrate your profession. Professional Sergeants are not the only profession to have their own day to celebrate. Bookkeepers (July 16), Lawyers (Dec. 19), Realtors (Oct. 9), and Students (Jan. 25) are just a few examples. Of course Students Day shouldn’t be mixed up with Ukrainian Knowledge Day (Sept. 1), which is the first day back to school. Don’t have a profession? Ukraine has you covered! As long as you have a name (Name Day) and you’ve been born (birthday), you already have two days to celebrate every year.
            In fact, Ukraine is especially prepared in having holidays to back up holidays. For example, maybe you don’t need to celebrate any adoptions on Adoption Day (Sept. 30). Don’t worry! You can always celebrate Ukrainian Library Day instead (also Sept. 30). Did you forget to get your wife something on Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14)? Don’t fret – you can make up for it on International Women’s Day (Mar. 8). And if you’re too busy on International Women’s Day making amends for forgetting Valentine’s Day, you can always celebrate the contributions of women on the Day of Women’s Emancipation (May 30). Ukraine even has you covered if you’ve forgotten you’re Name Day. For example, if your name is Trohym and you forgot that your name day was on March 21, you could always celebrate on March 31, which is also Trohym Day (in fact, it seems that Trohyms are generally forgetful as there is a third Trohym Day on April 28).
            Let’s take a look at a week in the life on my friend Yuriy. Last May 1 and 2 had time off work to celebrate the Days of International Solidarity of Workers. On May 3, he celebrated his wife Solomiya’s Name Day. May 4 is their anniversary. May 5 they celebrated Easter. May 6 is Yuriy’s Name Day. On May 7 Yuriy, who works at a radio station, celebrated Radio Day. But Yuriy’s week of celebrating didn’t finish there. His birthday is on May 8, there is the national holiday for Victory Day on May 9, and he had a wedding to attend on May 10. As anyone who has attended a wedding in Ukraine can attest, the celebration could go for days. Thankfully for Yuriy it ended before May 12, so he was able to bring flowers to his mother in time for Mother’s Day. As you can see, celebrating in Ukraine can quickly get out of hand!
            While Ukraine has more than its share of celebrations, the calendar becomes even fuller when Western holidays such as Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day are observed. And Ukrainians will be the first to point out that foreigners have their own odd celebrations. For example, why anyone would want to celebrate International Toilet Day (Nov. 19) is beyond their comprehension. I usually explain that Toilet Day is celebrated only to justify the International Day of Washing Hands (Oct. 15). And what is the International Day of Spontaneous Kindness (Feb. 17) all about? How spontaneous can one’s kindness be if a day for it is already planned? Some international holidays may have more traction in Ukraine. For example, May 31 is International Blonde Girl’s Day in light of a study that finds that the last blonde girl will be born in May 2202 in Finland. While my friend Yuriy was hoping to be able to celebrate the day with his beautiful (blonde) wife Solomiya, I actually haven’t been able to find him since his two weeks of celebrating back in spring.

From the staff at Lviv Today, Happy Holidays everyone and enjoy all of the celebrations they bring!