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Veseloho Rizdva! It's Christmas Day for Ukrainians

Ukrainian residents are celebrating Christmas today. The period from Jan. 7-14 is a festive week for Ukrainians, in which it is customary for some people to dress up, visit homes, sing Christmas songs and wish each other blessings.
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Halia Buba lights the candles and sets up the wheat didukh in preparation for the Christmas Eve 12-course dinner that took place last night at the Ukrainian Seniors Centre. Photo by Arron Pickard.
Ukrainian residents are celebrating Christmas today.

The period from Jan. 7-14 is a festive week for Ukrainians, in which it is customary for some people to dress up, visit homes, sing Christmas songs and wish each other blessings.

In Sudbury, the Ukrainian Seniors Centre hosted a Christmas Eve 12-course dinner last night followed by mass.

Preparations are also underway for a Christmas concert at St. Volodymyr Church on Jan. 17 at 2 p.m.

So why do Ukrainians celebrate on Jan. 7? Because it's 13 days after Dec. 25, that's why.

If you're thinking, "Huh?," the explanation is pretty straightforward really. Well, maybe not really.

Here's the explanation, with help from the website InfoUkes.com. 

Under the old (really old) Roman calendar in use for like 800 years before the birth of Christ, the year was divided into 10 months, and the year began in March. At some point, two extra months — Januarius and Februarius — were added. But the calendar didn't match up well with the flow of the seasons, a fact that got worse with time.

So in 46 B.C.E., Julius Caesar had the Greek astronomer Sosigenes figure out a more exact solar calendar, establishing the length of year 365 and one quarter days (365.25). Later, an extra day was added to the year every four years (leap year) to balance out that quarter of a day.

This confusing scenario was made a little more confusing when, in 345 C.E. (the former A.D.), Bishop Liberius of Rome fixed Christmas Day on Dec. 25, to replace a Roman pagan festival of sun-god worship.

But the Julian year was still about 11 minutes and 14 seconds too long, or 0.0078 of a day every year. Not much at first, but after a few centuries that time adds up. After 1,500 years, the calendar was out of step with the natural seasons by about 10 days.

So in 1528, Pope Gregory XIII decided to fix the calendar. He cut out 10 days — March 11 to 21, 1582 — and restored the spring equinox to March 21.

This fixed the calendar in Roman Catholic countries, but in Orthodox and Eastern rite churches — Greek, Syrian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Byelorussian and Ukrainian — the Julian calendar was maintained for ecclesiastical purposes.

By now, that eccliastical Julian calendar is 13 days out of date from the more accurate Gregorian calendar. If you add 13 days to Dec. 25, you end up with Jan. 7, the date of what has come to be called Ukrainian Christmas.

The inaccuracy in the Julian calendar continues, too. So, by the year 2101, Ukrainian Christmas will be celebrated one day later, on Jan. 8.

Veseloho Rizdva (or Merry Christmas)!


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