Today, January 7, is the Ukrainian celebration of Christmas (as well as for most other Orthodox churches).
Why January 7 and not December 25, you ask? I've told many of you that I thought it had to do with Soviet times, but that is not the case. First, we must have a short history lesson (for your benefit as well as mine--if I can explain it to you, then I can understand it myself). The following info is taken from Wikipedia and a few other websites.
In recent centuries, we use the Gregorian calendar. However, before there was Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, there was Julius Caesar in 45 BC. .... I changed my mind. I don't want to go into all this history. Long story short: The calendar years have different amounts of days, so December 25 on the Gregorian calendar corresponds with January 7 on the Julian calendar. Russia continued to use the Julian calendar until 1918 (and this explains why the October Revolution happened in November). A couple weeks from now, there will be the "Old" New Year, which is, again, based on the old Julian calendar.
How do we celebrate Ukrainian Christmas? Glad you asked!
I woke up around 7am, thanks to jet lag, and decided to get up around 7:30 and do things around the house. Because I knew I'd be going to church later in the morning, it felt like Sunday (and it still does).
My friend Zena came over for muffins and coffee/tea around 8:30, and we chatted (and watched Kosmo the cat) till she needed to leave for church around 9:30. [Side note: When I baked the muffins last night, the oven was too hot at first, so the muffin bottoms are slightly burnt. :(]
I got ready then left around 10:20am. As I walked to the corner to catch the bus, I noticed how QUIET it was! Very few people, very few buses. Of course--I thought to myself--it's a holiday! However, our neighborhood babushka that sells fresh produce was in her place, so we waved and smiled at each other.
When I arrived at church, I greeted everyone I saw, and promptly learned how to say "Merry Christmas" -- С рождеством, which sounds like "S rozhdyestvom." Click here to hear it. I knew by the time I got the hang of saying it to everyone at church, Christmas would be over.
Service began around 11:15am, and lasted until close to 1pm. Here's a rough outline of the service, including some photos and links to videos!
*Songs (including "Angels We Have Heard on High") and prayer
*Pastor Vova reviewed the 4 candles of Advent -- love, hope, peace, and joy. He had each child help light a candle. When he first held a lit candle toward Artyom, Artyom was going to blow out the candle! :)
*I made Jonathan W sit with me in case I needed him to translate for me, but he was leaving with the kids anyway. So much for that idea.
*The kids recited a poem and sang a song (in Ukrainian)
*Prayer for the kids, then they were dismissed to go upstairs for their program
*One of the ladies read Luke 2:1-7, then we sang "What Child is This?". This was followed by verses 8-16, and then "O Holy Night."
*Pastor Vova read from Matthew 2, up until verse 18. (I'm not sure where he started, and he was reading from a different version than I had--even in the Russian language!)
*Lena and Oksana sang "Mary, Did You Know?"--
*Pastor Vova preached a sermon that I barely understood (remember, I had no translator. In fact, I was the only missionary/American in this service, since Jonathan was upstairs). He talked about the wise men coming from another country, and about Herod. "What did Herod see?" That's what I'm wondering, since I didn't understand the sermon in Russian! I heard the word "konkurienta" repeated, and thought maybe it meant conqueror. Nope. It means a rival or competitor. Aha. Not long after this, my attention span faltered, and I began to daydream. Later Pastor Vova reminded us that "God redeemed us."
*"Придите к Иисусу" (Come to Jesus) song that I'd never heard before.
*Lev and Pastor Vova talked about House of James 1 and 2, and the children's homes, and then Lev showed some photos from some sort of outreach he had done with people I have never seen before.
*Lena talked about something, and then prayed for the offering.
*Song: "Любовь родилась на Рождество" (Love was born on Christmas)
As we began to shake hands with each other and say, "Peace to you" and "Merry Christmas," an a cappella rendition of a Christmas carol was sung throughout the sanctuary, impromptu. It was lovely. I greeted many people, then enjoyed tea and crackers with homemade peanut butter (!!!) with some folks downstairs. I talked with Elizabet (the lady from France) for a little while--she asked me if I had gone to France (umm....?), or to America over the holidays.
Upstairs, the kids were just finishing their program, so I hung around and talked to Zee and friends some more.
I finally decided that it was time for me to head home and eat leftovers, and that once it got dark, I would go downtown and look at the Christmas/New Year's lights. On the way to the bus stop, I caught up with little Katya and little Anya and their adult (I'm not sure if she's their/her mom--I need to ask her one of these days), and walked a couple blocks with them.
When I walked down my street, "our" babushka was still there, so I stopped by to say hello, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year. And buy a couple bananas, so as to help her out. Fun fact: 2 bananas cost me 6.75 гривня, or $0.85.
And now, it is nearly 5pm, and dark outside, which means I will be heading downtown! Stay tuned for part two (I hope)!