Okay, you are all probably running low on holiday cheer, seeing everything in America but football ended over a week ago, but I am going to press you a little bit further. Last week Shannon provided some info on Ukrainian holidays and especially Ukrainian Christmas. In this post I am attempting to add some informational and experiential color to Ukrainian New Years.
As far as I can tell, for Americans to best understand the Ukrainian holiday season, we must flip flop the significance of New Years and Christmas. The first reason has to do with dates. Here in Ukraine, New Years precedes Christmas, which occurs on January 7th. This being the case, New Years kicks off the holiday season and Christmas finishes it. Reason number two is historical. In the Soviet regime’s anti-religious policies, New Years was the government supported holiday of choice, having little religious affiliation, while Christmas, being a religious holiday, was largely suppressed.
Okay, now time for our expereince, which was totally interesting and worth sharing. Not knowing what we were really in for this year, and with the holidays all feeling a lit bit off for us, Shannon and I got quite a surprise when we went with some of our students to the city center on New Year’s Eve. I wish I would have taken a picture off the whole event, but let me try to describe it. On Christmas we took a picture in front of a giant Christmas tree which was located in L’viv’s centerpoint. There were not many people there when we took that picture. But this time, when we arrived there on New Year’s Eve, we were joined by maybe 3000-4000 people all collected into little groups and stretching down the street about a quarter of a mile.
Okay, so what, there was a lot of people? Well here is what made things so interesting: while in America we might expect the city / local government to contract the fireworks or put them on themselves, apparently in L’viv everyone is a freelanced firework consultant and makes a community effort at the display. In other words, fireworks were being set off by everyone, everywhere! It was every middle school boy’s dream. While this made for a terribly fun experience (at least for me) I think for many people it was probably more terrifying than fun.
You also might need to know that probably over half of the people there were totally inebriated. Not only were there fireworks going off everywhere, all at once, and completely randomly, drunks were lighting most of them. Picture a Ukrainian man with a bottle of Vodka in one hand and a roman candle in the other, then times it by 1000. People were not just lighting sparklers or small bottle rockets either. No, these fireworks were big ones, the ones you light and then flee from; except in this case, because there were people everywhere, everybody just threw them in the three foot gaps between them and the next group of people and things got interesting. In the course of the evening, we had one firework explode directly on our group of students, another almost fly up my pant leg, and another land on the head of a student while still flaming. I am looking foward to it again next year.
By the way, if you have read the news and are concerned about Shannon and I being cold, know that we are having no problem finding heat. Most of our Ukrainian friends seems to be totally unconcerned about losing gas and heat due to this whole dispute with Russia which has been comforting, irregardless of whether or not it is realistic. We are praying for a quick resolution.