Members of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Parish sing carols for Bishop David Motiuk.


Members of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Parish sing carols for Bishop David Motiuk.

February 3, 2014

In the Ukrainian Catholic tradition, a key component of celebrating Christmas is through singing kolyadky – Ukrainian Christmas carols.

On Saturday, Jan. 18, choirs and church groups took part in the age-old custom by visiting the Edmonton Ukrainian Eparchy's chancery office and singing carols for Bishop David Motiuk.

"In the Ukrainian tradition, oftentimes we express the joy of our Lord's birth through carols," explained Motiuk. "We have carols in all nationalities, but the Ukrainian carols have this beautiful theology in words and in melody to proclaim the glory of our Lord's birth."

While many Ukrainian Christmas Eve customs are of a solemn nature, the custom of caroling is joyful and merry.

Most carols deal with the birth of Jesus, although some speak also about Ukrainian history, mostly with the heroic episodes in the lives of princes. Some carols are glorification songs, glorifying the landowner, the farmer, his family.

The Ukrainian song Shchedryk became the basis for the world famous Christmas carol, Carol of the Bells. The popular carol tells of a swallow that goes to a landowner's house and asks him to come out and see how rich he is.

Another favourite Ukrainian carol is Boh Predvichny (God Eternal), which has a beautiful melody and lyrics.


Motiuk said this is a wonderful tradition, hundreds of years old. Years ago, especially before the days of motor vehicles when traveling from place to place was limited, families would welcome caroling groups into their homes.

Groups of young carolers and members of organizations would go house to house to announce Jesus' birth and perhaps collect donations. Today, many parishes and choirs still maintain this tradition.

Ukrainians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7 rather than Dec. 25 because it uses the Julian calendar while the

Roman Church uses the Gregorian calendar. Since tradition is important in the lives of people of Ukrainian origin, they continue to celebrate Christmas on the old date that was once observed by all Christians.

According to the Julian calendar, the Ukrainian Christmas festive days start Jan. 6 (Christmas Eve) and end Jan. 19 (Epiphany). For 40 days, from Dec. 25 until the Feb. 2 feast of the Encounter (the Presentation), Ukrainian Catholics in Edmonton celebrate the birth of Jesus.


Motiuk said: "When I first started, we had several days set aside in January to receive caroling groups. Today we have several groups. Some may be a quartet, and others may be a larger group. Some are just a group from a parish who love to sing."

Among the groups singing carols for the bishop were St. Nicholas Parish, Ukrainian Catholic Women's League, Holy Eucharist Parish, Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, the Ukrainian Youth Association of Canada and Sherwood Park's St. Sophia Parish.

For many years in Edmonton, both the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Music Society of Alberta have hosted Carol-Fest. This is an event that they share with the Orthodox. This year, the event was held at St. Josaphat's Cathedral, 10825-97 St.

"There will be hundreds who can share in the joy. I feel a little selfish when they carol for me. I feel very humbled," said Motiuk. "We can share this beautiful theology in words and in music, through the carols."