This Christmas, VATAHA went caroling in the Randstad to spread holiday cheer the Ukrainian way. The three caroling groups knocked on 32 doors to sing favorite Ukrainian Christmas classics such as “Bog sja rozdaje”, “Shczedryk” and “Nevobo I zemelja” in The Hague, Rotterdam and Zaandam. 

Together with friends from the Konovalets Station, Oekraiense Club in Zaandam and the Chervoni Korali choir, 4,120 Euros for the Ukrainian armed forces were raised. The donations are going toward the needs of 63 separate mechanized brigades, such as thermal imaging equipment, walkie-talkies and car repair.

Continuing the holiday tradition

The sizable donation pales in comparison to the invaluable experience made for Ukraine’s youngest. “It’s important to keep our traditions alive for our children – every season of the year,” says VATAHA’s co-founder Uliana Bun.

Caroling is a common annual Christmas tradition, Bun highlights, a happy memory from her own childhood growing up in Nadvirna, in the Ivano-Frankivsk region of Ukraine. 

Besides the singing, the caroling group also performed a short nativity play in front of the Rotterdam doorsteps, called a vertep, which included a caroler in a goat’s mask. In The Hague, on the other hand, the men carry a small ax called a bartka, which they rhythmically lift up in the air to scare away bad spirits, wish for a good harvest and their readiness to collect this harvest.

The star staff is also an integral attribute of Christmas. It usually has eight or nine rays and in the center an image of the Virgin Mary and the newborn Jesus.

Four of the children in tow portrayed the shczedruwalnyky, derived from the word “shchedryk”: a small bird that brings people into the new year, spring. “It symbolizes the beginning of a new cycle of the year after the winter solstice.”

The children wished each household a good year and a good harvest. “At first they were not very happy, because it is quite exhausting,” Bun admitted. “But with each new house they felt the feedback and thanks from people and in the end they were very glad to have taken part in such an event. They really want to go caroling next year as well. Plus, they understand the important purpose behind it all. It definitely added a lot of motivation.”

Christmas came early this year

In efforts to further align itself with Western culture, Ukraine has broken with the russian tradition of following the Julian calendar and celebrating Christmas on the Gregorian date January 6. For the first time since 1917, Christmas Day in Ukraine was officially on December 25.

This move was set forth by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in June 2023, who submitted a draft law to Ukraine’s national parliament to remove the Julian Calendar Christmas holiday on January 7 and confirming the December 25 date as the sole day of celebrations. Parliament passed this law on 14 July 2023 and Zelensky signed it into effect shortly after.

According to a December 2023 study by Deloitte, 45% of Ukrainians indicated they would be celebrating Christmas on December 25, and only 17% on January 7. There are also those who plan to celebrate twice – 32%.

By Anni Schleicher, 23 January 2023