Christmas holidays in Ukraine now have new calendar dates. St Nicholas comes to children on December 6 instead of December 19. Ukrainians, like the vast majority of Christians around the world, celebrate Christmas on December 25 according to the Gregorian and New Julian calendars. However, it is primarily children who get confused about the dates and traditions.

Medical psychologist Dmytro Vakulenko told how to involve a child in Ukrainian traditions, as well as how to tell a growing child that gifts for the holidays are given by parents, not their favourite hero.

  • Children have many holidays nowadays: St Nicholas Day and New Year’s Eve with Father Frost. How not to get confused?

    This is not very difficult, because these are different holidays, different characters and different customs. What the child knows about these holidays, these characters, traditions and rituals depends on the parents. Parents should tell their children about them, read fairy tales, and tell stories from their own childhood. This will help the child to distinguish these holidays. And if we don’t tell our children about this, they may get confused.

  • Is it worth celebrating several times if the child believes in the existence of one character?

    It depends on what traditions you have in your family. When a child is born, they don’t believe in any characters because they don’t know about them. But later on, they learn about them in kindergarten, at school, and perhaps, primarily, at home. So, you should celebrate according to your family’s traditions and not be guided by what your child believes or not.

  • Last year, Father Frost came, and now the family wants the child to believe in the existence of St Nicholas. What should parents do?

    First of all, you need to have a good understanding of the stories of Father Frost and St Nicholas. You need to understand what kind of image they are, what they represent, and what the story behind them is. And having this knowledge, you have to share it with your child in conversation, in fairy tales, in stories. In order to offer a new tradition to a child and for the child to accept it, you need to convey it to the child in a clear way and in a way that is understandable, and then involve them in the process of preparing for these holidays.

  • A family wants to abandon the image of Father Frost. How to explain his disappearance to the youngest children (under 4 years old)?

    Your task is simply to switch the child to another character, and it should work. Start talking about the other character, that he is coming, that he will make a gift. It should work. But don’t focus on the disappearance of the character the child believed in before. Don’t joke that Father Frost was shot down by air defence systems. Just replace Father Frost with Santa. Say that we now call Father Frost Santa. Santa is the father of Christmas in the UK. This character has many names. A child should take it well because they are young and have not had many experiences with Father Frost. 

    But it happens that a child already understands and remembers everything well. Then we have to explain that the war years changed a lot, our lives changed, we changed. Our traditions and holidays have also changed, and we now celebrate with a different character. And we now call him Santa Claus, not Father Frost. Tell the truth and do it calmly, with a calm tone of voice.

  • How to answer the question “Where did Father Frost go?”

    Say that it has remained, but not in Ukraine, but in other countries, in neighbouring countries, and not only in Russia. But we have different traditions now.

    We should not focus on the fact that he is bad, that he is gone, that he was offended by us and went somewhere else, or that we were offended by him. We don’t need to focus on this, because the child has had the experience that Father Frost is a good character. And it was we, the parents, who did everything to ensure that this is how the child knew him. And if we abruptly start saying that he is bad or a collaborator, it will not be very good. We have to tell the truth, to say that we have changes, and these changes are for the better.

  • How to explain the absence of Father Frost to older children?

    We can tell school-age children, from the age of 7, that Ukraine has always had traditions associated with Christmas and St Nicholas. And Father Frost is a character who came to us from the East, from another culture, not from the Ukrainian one.  We can tell that Father Frost existed in Russia under the Tsar, before the Soviet era, and this character was not native to our culture. He was imposed on our culture. 

    For teenage children, we can explain even more globally that the Soviet Union was a large organisation, a large country, which had to unite many peoples. To do this, it was necessary to create common traditions, common goals, common fears, and common characters on common holidays. At the same time, however, authentic traditions of peoples and authentic characters, such as St Nicholas, were being eliminated. This character was banned in Soviet times.

    In other words, Father Frost is a normal character, but in Soviet times he was attached to many communist symbols, and even the Christmas tree was decorated with symbols of communist power. In this way, Father Frost became an instrument of the Soviet Union’s influence, including on Ukraine. 

    So now, in the face of modern Russian aggression, we are deliberately abandoning these characters, images and traditions in order to strengthen our identity and our own Ukrainian culture. All of this is necessary to ensure that our victory comes as soon as possible and that such events don’t happen again in the future.

  • Why is it not appropriate to joke in front of a child that Father Frost was shot down by air defence?

    Because the child has the concept and understanding that Father Frost is a positive character who gives gifts to children. And then the child learns that he was shot down by an air defence system. If the child does not know what an air defence system is, he or she will start asking questions and you will have to explain. As a result, it turns out that a positive character, Father Frost, was shot down by our heroes, our defenders. This way you will lead the child into a dead end. And it will be very upsetting for them to learn that some positive characters quarrelled with another positive character and killed him. This will either destroy the child’s faith in Father Frost or make them lose faith in our military.

  • How to explain to a child the difference between Santa and Father Christmas?

    Explain that these are similar characters from different cultures. Explain that our planet is big and we have a very rich history, so different countries have different characters who play similar roles. For example, waiting for Santa Claus on New Year’s Eve or Christmas is a tradition that is spread all over the world. And since we are moving towards Western traditions and values, while preserving Ukrainian traditions, we now celebrate in this way and wait for Santa. Because we are abandoning the traditions that were offered to us by the Soviet Union.

  • The family used to celebrate Christmas on January 7, and St Nicholas came on December 19. How do you explain to your child that the holidays are coming earlier now?

    If it is a preschool child, follow the same pattern: don’t focus on the changes, just switch to the new dates. If the child is older and notices that the dates are different, explain that we have different cultures and traditions with our neighbouring country in the East. Now, like Western countries, we wait for Santa Claus and celebrate on different days.

  • How to explain to a child who has guessed that Santa/St. Nicholas/Father Frost doesn’t exist that they really don’t?

    For example, a child is 6 or 7 years old. This is the age when a child most often begins to realise that something is wrong. Either sooner or later, when parents see that the child already has doubts. Then the parents should invite the child to an adult, serious conversation, in which they should say that he or she has grown up over the year, become even stronger, and his or her body and heart have grown bigger. This means that now the child can give even more love to others. And at this point, tell the secret that, for example, on St Nicholas Day, each of us can become Santa. To give someone a gift on the holiday, but before that, communicate with that person all year round to understand what that person wants, what their desires are, what their needs are. This way, we transform the concept of Santa as a single character into the notion that this is a role played by every person who has reached a certain age.

    And for younger children who don’t know about it yet, you shouldn’t mention it because they haven’t yet grown up to play the role of Santa. 

    This transformation helps the child not to lose the spirit of Christmas and faith in miracles. And this doesn’t exclude the fact that the child receives a gift from his or her Santas – mum and dad.

    But if a child hears that a holiday character doesn’t exist, not from you, but, for example, in a kindergarten or at school and starts asking you questions, don’t deny these questions, but rather be the primary source and tell the child the truth.