Today's episode of the Humans of ESN Kyiv is a truly special one. As the holidays are just around the corner, we can't wait to tell you how our volunteers and their families celebrate New Year's Eve and Christmas. Now sit back and enjoy!

Before jumping into the stories of our members, let's look into how New Year's Eve and Christmas are usually celebrated in Ukraine. Here is the first surprise - we Ukrainians love winter holidays so much that we start celebrating way ahead of schedule. Ukraine and other Eastern Christian countries start with December 19, when we celebrate St. Nicholas Day. Shortly before the holiday Ukrainian children, often with the help of their parents, write letters to Saint Nicholas where they list all their dearest wishes. The good news is that the adults love this holiday just as much as the kids. You are never too old to look for a present hidden under your pillow! Hiding the gifts under the kids' pillows is exactly how St. Nicholas does his business. Creative, isn't it?

Another surprise is that for most of us, New Year's Eve comes before Christmas. In Orthodox Christianity, Christmas is celebrated on January 7. Ukrainian Christmas festivities begin on Christmas Eve (January 6) and end on the Feast of the Epiphany. The Christmas Eve Supper or Sviata Vecheria (Holy Supper) brings the family together to partake in special foods and begin the holiday with many customs and traditions. Kutia is the most important food of the entire Christmas Eve Supper and is also called God's Food. There are twelve courses in the Supper because according to the Christian tradition each course is dedicated to one of Christ's Apostles.

Now that you know a lot about Ukrainian celebrations, let's see what special traditions our members and their families have.

Q: How’s Christmas celebrated in your family?

"For me, Christmas is a family celebration, that's why we are gathering together at my grandma's each year. She invites her sister, her son and their families, and also my parents. They surely cook kutia and other traditional Christmas dishes. I really love Christmas, because I feel my heart gets rest this day. Maybe it's the coziest evening of the year, evening to be spent with family", - Viktoriia Mamoilyk 

"My family is not really religious, though we celebrate Christmas. For us, it became more like some kind of a tradition to be together on Christmas Eve and give each other cute small presents. Sometimes we also invite our close friends, but mostly there are only me, parents and my little sister. Christmas in my family is about warm talks, tasty foods and a lot of cheerfulness", - Yelyzaveta Bashcheva 

"Every winter I look forward to New Year's Eve and Christmas, because for me it's all about magic, giving presents and positive emotions. Usually, I spend these holidays with my family: my mom and dad and two younger sisters that still believe in Santa Claus (I hope so). We wrap presents for each other, decorate the Christmas tree with all kinds of garlands and figures, and always cook food for the next few days (although every year we promise not to cook too much)", - Mariia Honcharuk

"On Christmas, the whole family gathers together at the granny’s. When I say 'the whole family', it’s a huge deal. I mean, there are 20+ people. By the way, I don’t know how this small woman who is my granny manages to cook for every one of us. Moreover, we usually have lots of leftovers. As there are so many people in the family, it happens a lot that I don’t see them for a year and on Christmas, all the tea gets spilled. Kids (I am kids too) do a big photo with my granny, and then we sing carols (we don’t get money for nothing, okay?). After, we eat heavenly food and go play outside. I love it when sometimes our parents get very childish and play with us. We would lie in the snow, run around, throw snowballs at each other, and laugh way too hard. When the air gets crispy, and stars cover the sky, we would go back and get warm. Tea, conversations, socks, and stove do their job just fine. Christmas is the coziest holiday of the year because everything gets warm and honest, and I feel like my heart would explode from how much I love people around me", - Anastasiia Mykytenko 

"My family celebrates Christmas according to all Ukrainian traditions. The feast begins on the Holy Supper (Sviata Vecheria). We start our dinner only when the first star appears in the sky. The main dish is kutia, which we eat at first. There are 11 more fasting dishes on the table. Then Christmas carolers come to our home and sing Christmas songs. Christmas Eve is always a holiday of coziness, calmness, and magic", - Yana Melnychenko

"Christmas is a special time for my family when everyone is united to celebrate this marvellous holiday. To start with, the key to a successful Christmas is a special mood and a lot of food (I mean it).  The X-day starts with all kinds of food preparation. It may take a while, however, results are exceptional. By the end of the day, the family gathers around the table and the dinner begins. After we are done with food, it is time for presents", - Andrii Romanenko 

Q: Tell us about 3 things you usually do for New Year’s Eve!

"1) On New Year's Eve I always eat caviar. To be honest, I hate caviar, yet exactly on New Year's Eve, it is desirable for some reason. 2) We listen to Mr. President's congratulations. 3) We light sparklers", - Viktoriia Mamoilyk 

"We usually organize a great quiz with my little sister for everyone invited to celebrate New Year with us. By the end of the night, we give out some small presents for the winners. Also every year my father dresses up as a real Santa for kids and personally gives them their presents. So kids think that my father is an unfortunate one, who always misses that time when Santa is here. And the last thing me and my close friend usually do is lighting sparklers. I just adore those! So any New Year's Eve won't be really bright without these sparklers for me!" - Yelyzaveta Bashcheva 

"1) On New Year's Eve, my parents always made me and my sisters sleep in the afternoon, to give the opportunity for Santa to come (honestly, I could never sleep on this day, I was too excited). 2) After 1 am on January 1st all the usual concerts were finished, and we were listening to Disco of the 80s and dancing with a full stomach (I've already mentioned that we were cooking and eating too much). 3) Although we usually celebrate at home, we always dress up, and I do a super glittery makeup to feel super Christmasy!" - Mariia Honcharuk 

"1) Clean the shelves about the existence of which we haven’t even known. 2) Argue over whose favourite salad we will cook. 3) Run to the grocery store about ten times a day", - Anastasiia Mykytenko 

"I can't imagine New Year's Eve without: 1) My family. We always celebrate New Year's Eve together. My godparents also come to visit us. This holiday is always full of fun and laughter. 2) Fireworks. Every year after midnight, we go outside to light the fireworks. 3) My favourite salad with shrimp and cherry tomatoes!" - Yana Melnychenko 

"Firstly, we always decorate a Christmas tree on the last day, I mean on the 31st of December. Secondly, we usually try to cook as little as possible. And last, but not least, every year without exception we get presents for each other because we like presents!" - Yelyzaveta Pidporyhora 

"Speaking of things that we tend to do through the years are shopping, preparation of the main Christmas dish, kutia, and watching together TV shows or films afterward", - Andrii Romanenko 

Authors: Kateryna Kubrak, Yelyzaveta Makedon
Photos: personal archives of the members