Written April 15, 2014; updated Apr. 21
Holidays play an important role in every society. They offer a change of pace, a time to rest from work, a way to recognize the changing of the seasons, a chance to connect with family and friends, and an excuse to get together to eat and drink.
Holidays in Ukraine include both secular and religious, official (non-working) and unofficial. They are quite similar, but not identical, to holidays in Russia, and many holidays are inherited from the Soviet Union.
Official holidays in Ukraine (non-working days)
January 1-2 – New Year's Day
January 7 – Christmas (Orthodox calendar)
January 22 — Ukrainian Unity Day
May 8 – International Women's Day
Spring (date varies) – Easter: 4/20 (2014), 4/12 (2015), 5/1 (2016), 4/16 (2017), 4/8 (2018)
May 1-2 – Labor Day
May 9 – Victory Day
Late spring (date varies) – Trinity (Pentecost): 6/8 (2014), 5/31 (2015), 6/19 (2016), 6/4 (2017), 5/27 (2018)
June 28 – Ukrainian Constitution Day
August 24 – Ukrainian Independence Day
According to Ukrainian law, if the date of an official holiday or official day off falls on a weekend, then the holiday is moved to the first day following the holiday or non-working day. Basically, if one of the dates listed above falls on a weekend, then the holiday is taken the following Monday or Monday and Tuesday and people do not go to work. Typically the government makes the remaining workdays between New Year and Christmas holidays, but people then have to make it up by working three or for Saturdays later in the winter.
Julian vs. Gregorian Calendar
Note that religious holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and Old New Year's Day fall on different dates than in western countries. This is because the Orthodox Churches of a number of countries (Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Macedonia, Serbia, Georgia) continue to use the Julian, or "Old Style" Calendar, which is currently 13 days behind the Gregorian Calendar. The lag time between the two calendars increases by roughly one day every 100 years.
When do Ukrainians go on vacation?
According to Ukrainian law, employers must give employees 24 vacation days a year. You have to work 6 months straight before you can take vacation, and at least one of the chunks of vacation should be 14 days or longer. Teachers, professors, and scientists get up to 56 vacation days a year. The disabled and Chernobyl victims also get more vacation days than others. Ukrainians can also take up to 15 days of unpaid leave per year.
Besides the summertime (July and August are most popular), there are two periods during the year when Ukrainians take time off work and go on vacations in large numbers.
New Year Season
Many people take a week or two off. This is a favorite time for skiing trips in Ukraine or abroad, often with large groups of friends.
Many Ukrainians take 3 or 4 vacation days between Labor Day and Victory Day in order to get 10 or 11 days off in a row, counting weekends. This is a favorite time for nature-oriented vacations because the weather is often nice, trees and flowers are in bloom, and it is not yet hot.
Other notable holidays (all working days)
Religious holidays (underlined) are also included.
January 14 — Old New Year's Day
January 19 — Epiphany (may be called "Baptism")
January 25 — Student Day
February 23 — Defenders of the Fatherland Day (like Women's Day, but for men)
April 1 — Day of Laughter (also called Fool's Day)
April 7 — Anunciation / World Health Day
Early July — Ivana Kupala (Ivan's Day)
August 1 — Ukrainian Navy Day
August 19 — Transfiguration
August 28 — Assumption of Virgin Mary
September 1 — Knowledge Day
September 14 — Holy Cross Day
October 14 — Feast of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God
October 28 — Ukrainian Liberation Day (from German Aggressors)
How Ukrainians celebrate their holidays
New Year's Day (December 31 - January 1)
Probably the most important holiday of the year. The main celebration is actually the evening of December 31. People gather together with friends and family in a festive atmosphere with lots of eating and drinking. People reminisce about the past year and give toasts for the new one. At larger parties there may be contests and games.
Somewhere between December 20 and 29 most companies hold corporate parties where there is drinking, dancing, eating, and often games and entertainment. Grandfather Frost and his grandaughter-helper Snegurochka always appear together and are an integral part of any organized event.
Several weeks before the New Year most households buy a Christmas tree, but wrapped presents for children are usually only placed under the tree the morning of January before the kids get up. A lot of fireworks and firecrackers can be heard in the period of about December 25 to January 2, peaking at the New Year.
Many people turn on the television just before the New Year to hear the President's brief New Year's address (nothing like a "State of the Union" speech, but rather a short summary of the successes of the previous year and a festive greeting for the new year). Many people stay up to watch New Year's entertainment shows. There is still a tradition among some people of watching the Soviet movie The Irony of Fate, or I Hope You've Enjoyed Your Bath! — first shown on January 1, 1976. The movie tells of the New Year's escapades of a group of friends which leads to an unexpected romantic outcome.
Orthodox Christmas (January 6 - 7)
Religious people go to Christmas services on both days, prepare a range of traditional dishes, and celebrate with their families. For others (the majority) it's just another holiday with eating and drinking.
Epiphany, or Baptism (January 19)
Fans of bathing in icy water — both religious and non-religious — often cut holes in the ice to take dips in lakes and rivers on this day. This is traditionally viewed as the peak of winter.
Ukrainian Unity Day (January 22)
This holiday marks the reunification of Ukraine in 1919. Each year you can see people observing this holiday on the streets of Kiev and other Ukrainian cities. The human chains that they form symbolize the unification of the country.
Defenders of the Fatherland Day (February 23)
This Soviet holiday celebrated the creation of the Red Army and its victories over German invaders. It is viewed as a day for women to greet the men around them, much like March 8 is for women. Women who served in the Soviet Army may also be greeted. In general, the holiday is not nearly as developed as International Women's Day. There is the closest thing to a "Father's Day" in Ukraine.
International Women's Day (March 8)
People buy flowers en masse for the women in their lives. Women also give flowers to their mothers, etc., but it is mostly men who do the giving. A lot of men hate this holiday, and some "go into hiding" till it's over. Often chocolates and other gifts are given. You see a huge number of flowers in public spaces on March 7 and 8, and a lot of discarded flowers after that. Women typically dress up a bit more than usual. Companies always have some sort of celebration (usually March 7) on this holiday where they give gifts to the women and have drinks and snacks. This is the closest thing to a "Mother's Day" in Ukraine.
Easter (Sunday in April / early May)
There are special Easter services at Orthodox, Catholic, and other Christian churches in Ukraine. On this day it is customary to greet each other with the phrase "Christ is risen," to which the other person answers, "He is indeed risen" (Христос воскрес! Воистину воскрес — Russ., but the old Slavonic form is actually "воскресе," which one rarely hears now. In Ukrainian it's "Христос воскрес! Воістину воскрес."). Leading up to Easter one sees a lot of special Easter sweetcakes called "paskha" (the word for "Easter") — a cylinder-shaped sweet bread of various sizes with white frosting on top.
There are many more religious traditions surrounding Easter that are observed by faithful Orthodox believers, which compose a small minority of the population.
Victory Day (May 9)
This day marks the day that Nazi Germany capitulated to the Red Army, which had entered Berlin. There are fewer and fewer WWII soldiers still alive (they're now roughly 87-100 years old in 2014!), but they and their relatives gather on this date at war monuments around the country and lay down flowers. Former soldiers put on their best clothes with all their war medals and are quite a sight to see.
Trinity, or Pentecost (May or June)
For most people this is just a day off, but religious believers may go to services and participate in religious traditions.
Ivana Kupala / Ivan's Day (early July)
This pagan holiday was filled with rites relating to water, fire, and herbs. Most of them would take place at night. Urban Ukrainians still remember this holiday well and sometimes spend the night with friends by a river or lake, dancing around a fire and swimming in the water. Some of the traditional rites are still practiced in villages.
Ukrainian Constitution Day (June 28)
Generally just a day off...
Ukrainian Independence Day (August 24)
A major national holiday with mass events typically held in Ukrainian cities.
Ukrainian Liberation Day [from German Aggressors] (October 28)
A minor holiday where people give their respect to veterans and those fallen in war. Sometimes there are war exhibits and concerts.
Foreign holidays in Ukraine and Russia
Certain foreign holidays have become popular in Ukraine and Russia or are growing in popularity.
Saint Valentine's Day (February 14)
Similar to St. Valentine's Day in the West. Shops selling various romantic wares market this holiday to their advantage.
Saint Patrick's Day (March 17)
Observed in pubs and private parties. You're supposed to wear green.
Day of Laughter / Fool's Day (April 1)
Practical jokes are common. The first large-scale practical joke in Russia took place in 1703 in Moscow, when town criers invited people to an "unprecedented event." When the crowds got there all they saw was a sign on the staging that said, "April 1st — don't believe anybody!"
Halloween (October 31)
Halloween is becoming a popular youth holiday in cities across Ukraine. People enjoy dressing up in grotesque costumes and getting together in public places, or holding private parties where you're supposed to come wearing a costume. Trick-or-treating is not practiced.