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Christmas in Lviv – Ukrainian Holiday Traditions (and Doughnuts!)

Feature Articles in Lviv, Lwow, Lvov, Lemberg

Lviv Christmas Fair

Ever dream that Christmas could happen twice a year? Welcome to Lviv, Ukraine – a town where dreams come true! Imagine celebrating Christmas with your family in America or Western Europe, and then packing your bags for Lviv for another “serving” of Christmas.

Lviv is big on celebrations. One Christmas was not enough, so Lvivians came together and decided – why not double the fun?

Well, actually there was another reason. Traditionally Lviv’s minority Roman Catholics celebrate Christmas on December 25th according to the Gregorian calendar while a majority–Greek Catholics and Orthodox–use the Julian calendar and celebrate on January 7th. But as Lvivians are nuts about holidays, they don’t mind supporting their neighbors and marking both Christmases.

Winter holidays last a month in Ukraine. Many Lviv locals refer to the period from December 19th to January 19th as “Ukrainian Ramadan.” Businessmen should be aware of this holiday schedule and plan their business trips and meetings around these dates.

Christmas Caroling – Lviv-Style Trick or Treating

One of the most memorable things about Christmas in Lviv is kolyadnyky, children going house to house singing carols. People give them a small amount of money and sweets almost like trick or treating in America. But kolyadky (Christmas carols) are not only childish amusements. From Christmas till the end of January there’s the Great Kolyada Christmas Carols Festival at the Dominican Cathedral. Shortly after Christmas the Rock-Kolyada Festival thunders at Robert Doms Beer House, where Christmas carols are performed in an ethno-rock style.

Verteps – Children’s Christmas Nativity Plays

Vertep – Christmas nativity play

Slightly older children often participate in Verteps – Christmas nativity plays, which retell story about the birth of baby Jesus in difficult conditions, about the eternal victory of life over death. In addition to figures from the Bible, Verteps are often populated with other vivid characters such as imps, gypsies, and death itself. Such creative Verteps are often much more popular than traditional stories starring St. Joseph or the Eastern Wise Men. You can watch Vertep performances from January 7 to 9 in Lviv’s Old Town. Lviv’s streets fill with the holiday spirit as thousands gather on the old square to enjoy well-told tales.

Shop at Lviv’s Christmas Fair, Ice Skating on Rynok Square

If you’re looking for Ukrainian souvenirs, then check out the Lviv Christmas Fair. There you can buy handcrafts, lyalky-motanky (traditional Ukrainian talismanic dolls), jewelry or CD’s with Christmas music. You can also treat yourself to glintvein (hot spiced wine), mead and coffee; have a bite of varenyky (traditional dumplings) or pampushky (doughnuts). Lviv’s Christmas Fair spreads out on Rynok Square and Prospect Svobody.

Another way to warm up is a bit of winter sport on the small ice skating rink on Lviv’s Rynok Square. It’s open from 10:00 a.m. till 11:00 p.m and for reasonable price (about 4 Euro) the you can rent ice skates and enjoy skating to Christmas music (picture a Rockefeller Center with a medieval backdrop.)

New Years in Lviv

Not surprisingly there are also two New Year’s Eves in Lviv. The first is celebrated on December 31st/January 1st, and the second, called Old New Year, or St. Basil’s Day, is celebrated on the night of 13th/14th January. Singing children go house to house again. But this time instead of kolyadky, the children sing schedrivky (from the word schedry – “generous”). They sprinkle the floors of their neighbors with grain and wish their hosts joy and prosperity for the New Year. One of the Ukrainian schedrivky must be familiar to you – it’s the well-known Christmas Carol of the Bells by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych.

Watch this picturesque time-lapse video of Lviv at Christmas set to the Carol of the Bells.

Traditional Ukrainian Winter Holiday Cuisine

Kutya – sweet grain pudding

All winter holidays in Lviv are accompanied by a grand feast. At Christmas Lviv families serve many special traditional dishes. For example, on Christmas Eve (January 6th) there should be 12 traditional Lenten dishes on the table of every family. Kutya (a sweet grain pudding) is one of the main dishes. Other Ukrainian dishes include varenyky, borscht, uzvar (dried fruit compote), and pampushky (doughnuts)–don’t miss our doughnut recipe below.

On January 7 the fasting is over, and a variety of meat dishes are added. Keep in mind that Lvivians are very hospitable, and every hostess is proud of her cooking abilities. So if you’re visiting a Lviv family for Christmas, prepare to be stuffed with food so much that you’ll hardly be able to walk. It’s almost impossible to escape Lviv hospitality–don’t bother telling your hosts that you’re “on a diet.”

Lviv Christmas Holiday Calendar – Key Dates

December 19 – St. Nicholas Day (similar to “Boxing Day” in some countries). On this day children get sweets and gifts from under their pillows. If you are going to visit families with children on that day, it is appropriate to bring a gift, candy or a chocolate or gingerbread figure of St. Nicholas.

Also, this day the illumination of the Christmas tree in the square in front of the Opera House lights and Lviv’s Christmas fair begins

December 24- On Roman Catholic Christmas Eve the main nativity scene (shopka) opens on Rynok Square.

December 25 – Roman Catholic Christmas. The Bethlehem fire of peace arrives in Lviv.

January 1 – New Year’s Day (there are officially two vacation days – 1 and 2 January, but most people take that entire week off and little business gets done during that time.)

January 6 – Orthodox and Greek Catholic Christmas Eve. the Didukh is mounted in Prospect Svobody. Didukh is a sheaf, which is to be brought into the house on winter holidays according to ancient pagan tradition. It symbolizes the ancestors of the family. Lviv empties; everybody is sitting down for their holiday meal or attending church service.

January 7- Orthodox and Greek Catholic Christmas. Kolyadnyky and Verteps are going around, folk festivities are starting – all these last at least 3 days. At the outdoor museum Shevchenkivsky Hai you can attend the “Light of the Christmas Star” Festival with Ukrainian Christmas carols and traditional dishes. The three-day Lviv Doughnut Festival (Svyato Pampukha), one of the city’s biggest festivals also takes place during this time.

January 13-14 – Old New Year.

January 19 – Epiphany or Jordan. The night-before dinner with traditional 12 dishes is repeated. On January 19 a blessing of the water is carried out. The boldest celebrants bathe in nearby lakes. This date marks the end of the long winter holidays in Ukraine. Lvivians calm down and wait for Easter in Lviv.

Lviv Recipe for Doughnuts (Pampukhy)

Pampukhy – doughnuts

Each hostess in Lviv takes pride in her own secret recipe of pampukhy. Here’s an old family recipe for these delicious doughnuts.

For the dough:

  • Flour – 1 kg
  • Yeast – 100 g
  • Sugar – 100-150 g
  • Milk – 1/2 liter
  • 7 egg yolks
  • 1 egg
  • Salt
  • Vegetable oil – 5-6 tablespoons
  • Butter – 100 g
  • 1/3 sticks of vanilla
  • lemon juice and zest

Filling: You can select one of the options filling: rose jam, cherries, pounded poppy seeds mixed with nuts

For frying: 1-1.5 kg fat for frying (oil, margarine, lard), 100 g of powdered sugar

Equipment: Fryer or frying pan with a cover

Directions for Making Doughnuts

  • Mix the yeast with 1 teaspoon of sugar, 200 g of flour and 200 g of milk to prepare the pre-dough. Put it in a warm place.
  • Beat the egg and egg yolks with sugar. Add flour, pre-dough, vanilla, lemon juice, zest, remaining milk and salt.
  • Knead the dough until it is smooth and shiny and bubbles appear on the surface.
  • Add oil and knead some more.
  • Put the dough in a warm place to rise (10-15 min)
  • Warm up the oil for frying
  • Gather the dough in small portions, putting stuffing into the middle. Seal each pampukh very well making sure that the filling doesn’t ooze out. Place it on floured surface with sealed side down. Cover with a towel.
  • Check the temperature of the oil by putting a small piece of dough into it. If a piece pops up quickly and gets brown immediately, then the oil is ready for frying the pampukhy.
  • Take them carefully one after another and putting them into the fat topside down.
  • The doughnuts have to float freely in the pan.
  • Cover with a lid and fry them (approximately for 2-2.5 min).
  • When doughnut bottoms get brown, flip them and continue frying them uncovered.
  • Put doughnuts on parchment paper to dry and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Useful Ukrainian Phrases for Christmas

Traditional Ukrainian Christmas dinner

Christmas greeting (Literally: Christ was born)- Христос народився – Khrystos narodyvsya
Reply to the Christmas greeting (Literally: Let’s praise Him)- Славімо його – Slavimo yoho
Happy New Year – З новим роком – Z novym rokom
Merry Christmas – Веселих свят – Veselykh svyat
Christmas carolers – Колядники – Kolyadnyky
Christmas sheaf – Дідух – Didukh
Christmas tree – Ялинка – Yalynka
Christmas sweet grain pudding – Кутя – Kutya
Doughnuts – Пампухи – Pampukhy
Dried fruit compote – Узвар – Uzvar
Dumplings – Вареники – Varenyky