New Year’s, check.
Make your resolutions, put the holidays behind you, and get started on 2023, right?
Wrong. If you thought celebrating Christmas in North America had become politicized in the last decade, buckle up. Here’s some real politics.
Christmas again is twice as nice
As a kid, maybe you heard the phrase "Christmas only comes once a year." But what if I told you there are places where Christmas comes twice a year?
In Moldova, Christmas is, in fact, coming again. And not just here. Belarus, Ukraine, Eritrea and Lebanon also officially celebrate Christmas twice: On December 25th and January 7th.
January 7this Christmas for the Orthodox Christian church. This alternate date originated back to when most of the Orthodox world was on the Julian calendar, so December 25th in parts of the world using the Gregorian calendar was January 7th for them. Even after they switched over to the Gregorian calendar, the original date of Christmas remained. Hence, two Christmases.
And the truth is that few actually believe Jesus was born on December 25. This was just an arbitrary date—which happened to roughly coincide with the pagan celebration of Saturnalia—picked by Pope Julius I in 350 AD for the celebration of the birth.
The politics of Christmas in Moldova
In recent years, especially in Moldova, and now in Ukraine, celebrating on December 25, alongside most of Europe, is seen as a way of adopting a European identity. They call December 25th the “new-style” holiday and January 7th the “old-style”.
And just this year, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OUC) officially allowed its followers to celebrate Christmas on December 25, further distancing themselves from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) which is perceived to be politically linked to Russia.
Given the amount and influence of Western social media and the cultural prominence of television and film from the USA and other parts of Europe, it was only a matter of time before families here started to celebrate on December 25, but this was a slow process until last year’s Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In Moldova, January 1st is the biggest holiday of the season.
This is only one of the interesting issues surrounding Christmas here in Moldova, though. At first, a harder thing to understand was why people kept telling me that actually January 1st was the biggest holiday of the season.
During the U.S.S.R., religion was formally banned and New Year’s Day therefore became the biggest celebration for families. Everyone would cook all day, relatives would start travelling around visiting each other in the afternoon. At 11 p.m., the ruler of the U.S.S.R. would give his annual address to the nation. Then at midnight, informal firework displays would start erupting throughout every neighbourhood. After this, families would resume eating and drinking until the morning.
The holy grail of travel
This is roughly how it played out for my wife and I this year. In what can only be considered a great honour, Brieanne and I were invited to my adviser’s family home to celebrate the New Year with her family.
We arrived at 6 p.m. and started eating around 7. There were 19 dishes on the table when we started—many of the prototype Soviet salad featuring chopped meat and veggies slathered in mayonnaise—and more dishes came out of the kitchen over the course of the night. We ate and drank and played games, and the next thing we knew it was midnight. When we heard the first explosions, we ran outside to marvel at the displays. Some seemed only a few streets from us and some were on the distant horizon. Then, it was back to more food and drink and in the end, we didn't catch our taxi home until 2:30 a.m.
All in all, it was an incredible celebration and as all serious travellers will agree, getting an invite to spend holidays with a local family is the “holy grail” of travel. We were privileged to have the chance to spend a night with Oxana and her family and we will never forget it.Add this article to your reading list