How to Decorate Your Home for Christmas. Didukh or Christmas Tree? How Did People Celebrate Just 100 Years Ago?

Since ancient times, the main Christmas symbol in a Ukrainian home has been didukh. Nowadays, many Ukrainians don’t even know what it is. It’s time for some…

Since ancient times, the main Christmas symbol in a Ukrainian home has been didukh. Nowadays, many Ukrainians don’t even know what it is. It’s time for some to learn about it, for others to remember it. It’s time to understand how and when it became a tradition to decorate a Christmas tree and in what way. Where it started and how it has evolved. How to do it now.

Didukh is a Ukrainian Christmas decoration, a decorated sheaf of ears, a symbol of the patron saint, the founder of the family, a symbol of harvest, prosperity, and wealth. Didukh looks like an upright sheaf made up of the best grain from the first harvest. It was stored until Christmas, and on the eve it was decorated with colored ribbons, dried flowers, wild flowers, flax, viburnum, and fruits. Before the Christmas Eve dinner, the master would solemnly bring didukh into the house and put it on the edge of the table in a place of honor. After that, the family would sit down to dinner at the Christmas Eve table.

The first or last sheaf, or another part of the harvest, has a special meaning in most agricultural cults and is endowed with magical powers in beliefs. The sheaf is a common symbol of unity, integration, and strength. Didukh is formed from a sheaf, so it has a special meaning. But why was it forgotten, why is it now a tradition to decorate a Christmas tree in our homes? Has it always been like this? Not always.

There was a time when families honored and decorated only the didukh for Christmas. Then there were times when the Ukrainian tradition honored both didukh and the Christmas tree at the same time.

Around the eighteenth century, decorated Christmas trees began to appear in cities, not in villages, where the traditional celebration was with didukh, but in some places. From the middle of the nineteenth century, Christmas trees became a part of the urban tradition of Christmas celebrations. This is well known from the correspondence and memoirs of the Ukrainian intelligentsia of that period or from the stories of writers. The custom of decorating the home with a Christmas or New Year’s coniferous tree (fir, pine, spruce, etc.) among Ukrainians and Slavs in general is a rather late cultural borrowing, probably from the Germans, where this tradition appeared in Alsace around 1605. The tradition of the Christmas tree was gradually adopted by other European nations. This was a fashionable copying and spread primarily among the wealthiest segments of the population. The massive spread of the tradition of decorating a Christmas tree before Christmas began only in the nineteenth century. In Ukraine, as elsewhere in Europe, the Christmas tree first appeared in the homes of lords and aristocrats. The press of the time and memoirs mention «German Christmas trees» that spread through Kyiv after the mid-nineteenth century and became a fashionable phenomenon of urban life and public events in orphanages, boarding schools, gymnasiums, and later in public schools. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Christmas tree was gradually democratized, becoming a part of the celebrations of the urban population. But for a long time, the didukh, a sheaf, was the only alternative decoration for the peasant interior at Christmas. Gradually, already in the 20s and 30s of the twentieth century (only some 100-90 years ago!), the Christmas tree was squeezed into peasant life, beginning to perform both aesthetic and religious and magical functions, sometimes together with didukh. Now, despite the fact that didukh is a traditional Ukrainian symbol of Christmas, the Christmas tree has acquired a dominant status, and is mistakenly considered by most to be an unquestionable symbol.

So, as you can see, the tradition of putting up a Christmas tree is, firstly, not Ukrainian, and secondly, it is not that old, and therefore not unquestioned. Older people still remember well that it has always been a Ukrainian custom to put up a didukh on Christmas Eve. Even in the 1960s and 1970s, even in the Kyiv region, not all families adopted the tradition of Christmas with Christmas trees, cherishing the tradition if not with a didukh, then at least with an ear of first harvest near the icons. Or they put up both didukh and Christmas tree as a reasonable compromise: the Christmas tree was decorated in the morning or before lunch on December 24, and the didukh was brought in on Christmas Eve, when the first star rose and the family sat down to dinner.

At the beginning of the Christmas tree tradition, the tree was decorated with various delicacies: nuts in brightly wrapped packages, candies, even vegetables. Real wax candles were burning on the branches. Shiny balls and electric garlands came later. The top of the tree was crowned with the Star of Bethlehem.

During the Soviet period, they wanted to displace the Christmas tree, but, strangely enough, they failed. So they decided to ideologize it. They shifted the celebration and decorations from Christmas to New Year’s Eve, and invented Father Frost and Snow Maiden as opposed to Santa Claus. They made the Christmas tree an ideological product of the New Year with a red star on top, with toys in the shape of corn, spotlights, spacecraft, etc.

It is believed that we have always had a tradition of decorating the Christmas tree for the New Year’s holiday… Human memory is so short. This tradition with red stars and a red Father Frost is less than a hundred years old. It’s a pity for children’s memories, but we need to get rid of these Soviet distortions of tradition. In Ukraine’s original tradition, the festivities with gifts begin before Christmas, long before the New Year. And this is done mostly for children. Santa Claus started giving gifts to children, but children received some small gifts on Christmas Day as well. While a mistress would prepare the festive dinner in the morning on Christmas Eve, the home would be decorated during the entire week before Christmas. It was not only about decorating the Christmas tree or bringing didukh, which was mostly done by adults, but also about decorating the whole house: doors, windows – this role was mostly given to children and young girls.

Know about didukh, read about it – there are a lot of materials available nowadays. Many craftsmen make didukhs of different sizes and decorations. This year, online offers to buy didukhs have already begun to compete with offers to buy a Christmas tree!

Together with the ancient Ukrainian symbol of Christmas, didukh, which imbues the home with family warmth and well-being, you can introduce a unique and stylish detail to decorate the festive interior. Together with modern technology from Twinkly, you can create a magical lighting accent, emphasizing tradition and celebrating the importance of didukh in our hearts. This combination of old and innovative will create an atmosphere of wonder and comfort that we are all looking for.

When faced with the dilemma of whether to decorate your home with a didukh or a Christmas tree, we advise you to make a gentle and compromise decision – to celebrate Christmas with both a didukh and a Christmas tree. Let’s let the ancient didukh return to our homes. And later, perhaps, the didukh will remain alone or next to the Christmas tree, but let it be this beautifully decorated sheaf or a bundle of wheat, barley, or rye ears – a symbol of the didukh. And with this ear we will feel the acceptance of our entire Family, as it has been for many hundreds or thousands of years of our existence. There is great power in our traditions! Let’s protect and revive them.

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