“…Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1b-2)
Did you know there’s another Christmas Day?
While most of the world celebrates Christmas on December 25, according to the calendar developed by Pope Gregory, there are still places in Europe where Jesus’ birthday is observed on January 7 (based on the older Julian calendar).
Over the past weekend, Eastern Orthodox churches in Europe celebrated Christmas on Saturday, Jan. 7, with worship services and family time. Most noteworthy, however, was that Christmas was observed in two countries locked in war against each other—Russia and Ukraine.
No one knows, at this moment, how many lives have been claimed by this conflict. Reports from both sides and from independent agencies vary widely, and the situation is still in flux.
At minimum, Russians have seen 10,000 military deaths (reported by Mediazona1), with as many as 100,000 casualties estimated by American military commanders. On the Ukraine side, the numbers are similar, augmented by civilian deaths and injuries as well.2 Estimates of the civilian toll include more than 17,000 killed and wounded, although it could easily be as many as 40,000. Of these, more than 1,200 were children.3
As 2023 dawns, both Ukrainians and Russians are reeling from this staggering human loss. Hundreds of thousands of families are grieving—over deaths, permanent injuries, uprooting, loss of homes—and more will be added before this conflict ends.
Yet even with the horrific cost in human lives and destruction, Christmas day was observed across Ukraine in somber religious services. Various news sources reported on churches in Ukraine where leadership has shifted from Moscow-level to Ukrainian-based.4 Refugees from Ukraine, temporarily housed in other countries, prayed for peace and the opportunity to return home.5
The Ukrainian Christmas celebration historically began on Christmas Eve, Jan. 6, with a Sviata Vecheria (Holy Dinner) of 12 dishes symbolizing the 12 apostles. Kutia (boiled wheat mixed with poppy seeds and honey) was the main dish. The next morning, Jan. 7, greetings of “Christ is Born!” and “Let us Praise Him!” marked the day’s beginning, while caroling and festive star decorations relate to the Christmas Star.
A church in L’viv (one supported by my church in the United States) invited friends and neighbors to hear the story of Christ’s birth at Bethlehem, told by church members in costume at “stations” set up around the church. One of the purposes of this event was to “normalize” the Christmas experience in spite of the war.
Meanwhile, Russian leaders spoke of a cease-fire in honor of Christmas, yet the shelling and bombardment on Ukrainian soil continued, with deaths and injuries of civilians.
As we watch from a distance, it’s easy to feel helpless. There are opportunities to show our support, however—visit https://voice-of-ukraine.com for several possibilities. And we can always pray for the Ukrainians caught in the crosshairs of this senseless conflict. The same website lists ways to engage in spiritual warfare: https://voice-of-ukraine.com/pray/
I invite you to pray also for the Russian people who are powerless in a war against their wishes. Pray for the Russian mothers, fathers, spouses, and children whose beloved soldiers will never return home for Christmas. They, too, have lost much. Pray that the Russian leadership will decide to withdraw from Ukraine.
Christmas ought to be a time of hope. We need to pray for hope to prevail in the hearts of all those who call on the name of Jesus Christ. Pray also for His Holy Spirit and His word to go out mightily into the darkness of post-Soviet Russia, to bring light and revival. Pray for His strength and endurance to defend the Ukrainian people.
May God grant an end to this conflict soon…restoring His peace and comfort to all who bear its wounds.
Lord God of Heaven, hear our prayers for Ukraine and end this horrific warfare. Give Your wisdom and might to their cause, and help their people to endure. Lord, we lift up all those who have lost loved ones, on both sides, and ask You to comfort their mourning. Let Your Holy Spirit restore their peace and unity. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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© Copyright 2023 Nancy C. Williams, Lightbourne Creative (text and photography)
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
To learn more about the grace of Jesus Christ, go to this page on my website: https://lightbournecreative.com/good-news-for-you/
2 responses to “The Privileged Life: When It’s Christmas…in a War Zone”
Wow- I didn’t know any of this. I didn’t realize there was another date celebrated as Christmas. I also was not aware of many of the details you shared about Russia and Ukraine or the war. Thank you for posting and stoking the fire of my prayers. God bless you, my friend!
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Yes, they need all of our prayers…and that is what those on the front lines tell us they desperately need. The same “Old Christmas” was celebrated in January here in Appalachia for centuries and is apparently still observed in some Amish communities….
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