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Ukrainian Christmas Traditions

Merry Ukrainian Christmas! 
Here you will find the list of traditional dishes served on Christmas Eve (January 6th) and some of the traditions and history of Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas.  I have taken most of this information from "Cooking Ukrainian Style" (a cookbook to mark the 50th anniversary of the Olena Pchilka Branch of the Ukrainian Women's Association, 1927-1977).  This book was a gift to me from Aunty Ann and Marusia in 1977, when I was 13.

Ukrainian Christmas Eve
Traditional Menu

Kutia (wheat)

Borsch

Stuffed Fish

Jellied Fish

Perogy (sauerkraut and prunes)

Bib (broad beans)

Kolacheni Fasoli (beans)

Holubtsi (cabbage rolls)

Mushrooms

Stewed dried fruit

Kolach

Pampusky

If anyone would like recipes for the traditional recipes listed here, call your Mom.... or drop me an email, and I will send you a copy of the recipe book.

Susan's Thoughts  
by Susan Ward

(from our Family Recipe Collection, 1998)

A tale from the "Ukrainian Daughter's Cookbook" or maybe just a cooking tale from a Ukrainian daughter...

For years I have tried to make a traditional kolach at Christmas.  My efforts have been met with mixed success and, as a result, my kolaches have served many purposes...

--one year the kolach was the puck in our hockey game
--for a couple of years the kolach made a beautiful centre piece for the table--too hard to eat but looked good!

I am happy to say that recently we have been able to eat one!!!

Christmas Eve  
by Irene Skoretz

(from our Family Recipe Collection, 1998)

One year my sister Ann and her husband Mike asked us to dinner in Yorkton for Ukrainian Christmas Eve supper.  I got everything ready for out supper, too, but we did not eat at home, we were all going to Yorkton.  Our tradition was always to leave some food on the table for the deceased, who came after midnight to your house.  My parents and also Adam's were deceased already.

So before we left, I put some Kutia wheat in a small bowl, some cabbage rolls, some mushrooms and some pyrohi with a spoon, fork and plate on the table.  And we all left.  We spent the night in Yorkton and the next day, Christmas Day, we came home.

Adam was first to open the door, then me and the kids.  I first looked at the table, the plate was empty.  I was very shocked and I just stood there.  Everyone looked at me, and didn't know what happened.  They all said, "Mom, what's wrong?"  All I said was "look at the plate, it's empty.  My parents were here last night!"  Zane was about 7or 8 and he suddenly looked very sheepish.  All he said was, "oh, Mom, I ate them before we left yesterday!".

Rizdvo
(Christmas)

Orthodox religions throughout the world celebrate the birth of Christ as is it marked on the Julian calendar, meaning that Christmas falls on January 6th and 7th--13 days after the Gregorian calendar (December 25th).

The most festive occasion is Sviata Vecheria (Holy Supper) on Christmas Eve, January 6th.  A feeling of suffused joy and expectation pervades the home as preparations are begun early in the day.  

The table is covered with a richly embroidered cloth under which a handful of hay has been spread (a reminder of Christ's birth in the manger), with a kolach and a lighted candle placed in the centre (the heat from the candle is said to lift the family's prayers up to God).  A place is set for every person in the house, plus one extra, in case an unexpected guest arrives.  A sheaf of grain (the didukh) is set in a corner and a decorated Christmas tree (ialynka) holds a prominent place in the room.  The children eagerly watch for the first evening star (at sunset), at which time the family sits down to Holy Supper.

The menu is meatless, consisting of twelve dishes, symbolic of the twelve Apostles, and of the bountiful harvest of the garden, the field and orchard, and rivers and lakes.  No milk or animal fats may be used in the preparation of food.  This is a survival of the ancient animistic religion, a belief that all living things possess a soul.  The main dish is kutia (cooked wheat flavoured with honey, nuts, and crushed poppy seed).

After repeating the Lord's prayer, the head of the family raises a spoonful of kutia and greets the family with the traditional "Khrystos Rodyvsia!" (Christ is born) and all reply "Slavim Yoho!" (Let us glorify him).  After partaking of kutia, the family is served with other delectable dishes: borsch, varenyky (perogy) holubtsi, various preparations of fish (baked or jellied), marinated herrings, mushrooms, beans flavoured with garlic, sauerkraut with peas, stewed fruit, buns and other pastries, fresh fruit and nuts.  After Supper, the whole family joins in singing traditional Christmas carols, beginning with the oldest koliada "Boh Predvichnyi" (God Eternal).

At midnight the family attends a special Christmas service to hear again the deeply moving story of the birth of Christ, and to join in the singing of well known and beloved carols.

It is customary for groups of young and old to go carolling to homes of parishioners.  The carollers are eagerly awaited everywhere and the generous donations given are designated for the Church and charity or other worthy causes.  For it is at Christmas, the time of our Saviour's birth that the "Peace on Earth, goodwill to men" proclaimed by the angels centuries ago is the most manifest among men, a fitting tribute to the teachings of Christ and of our Holy Church.