"Sad Holy Night"

7 December 2023

"This year, once again, we find ourselves unable to gather together for Christmas", a phrase that rings true for our family and echoes among many of my friends. Being with our loved ones is a privilege in a country where daily life is overshadowed by somber reports from the war front and the relentless sound of air raid sirens.

  • Stanislav Bondar
    PThU alumnus, PhD student and teacher

Not a traditional carol

My wife recalls how her grandfather used to sing the carol "Sad Holy Night", which emerged in Ukraine after World War II and resonated deeply with an entire generation. This carol depicts a 1946 Christmas Eve dinner in a Ukrainian family, where one son was deported to Siberia, another made it to Berlin, and a third became a partisan resisting Stalin’s regime. It’s hardly a traditional carol, as it doesn’t recount the familiar Christian events in Bethlehem. Surprisingly, this carol points to the profound meaning of Christmas dinner, occurring despite trying circumstances.

Safe haven

This deep meaning is reflected in the Christmas story of a young family awaiting new life, seeking shelter among strangers, and then setting off with their infant in search of a safe haven in distant lands. "Sad Holy Night" reminds us of the somber aspect of human existence and captures the mood of millions of families unable to gather for Christmas, divided by borders and bombs.

I witnessed many such stories on the night of February 25, 2022, when my wife and son had to cross the border into territories that couldn’t be bombed. At the Ukrainian-Polish border, people stood in miles-long queues, families waiting in a small area for their turn to bid farewell and head in different directions. Since then, I have often reflected on the story of the family from Nazareth. I have thought about Abraham and how hard it is to leave behind an old life. I truly felt loneliness and empathy when I realized that most people in a Lviv store (in western Ukraine), where I was buying shoes, were from the east of Ukraine. They were young families. Where were these people going? What had become of their cities, homes, dreams, and plans? What lay ahead for them? One day, I found myself driving my cousin and her young son, who required special care, to the border. They were seeking refuge in the comparatively safer country of Israel; or safe as it seemed then...


I will never forget reuniting with my wife and son after our forced separation. We are fortunate to be together again. It seems to me that we have already received the greatest Christmas gift – the opportunity to be together. I dearly wish one day we will be able to share this gift with our whole family.