What You Need To Know About a Ukrainian Christmas
We love the holidays here at SVCC, and we love having guests for social gatherings this time of year! Every culture has unique Christmas traditions, and we’ve compiled a few essential Ukrainian Christmas traditions for you!
St. Nicholas, known as ‘Sviatyi Mykolai’ in Ukrainian, is the patron saint of children and distributes gifts to good girls and boys on December 19th. Additionally, traditional folk lore states that he brings about snowfall by shaking his beard.
Additionally, Ukrainian Christmas falls on January 7th instead of December 25th. Christmas Eve, known as Svyat Vechir or Sviata Vecheria, falls on January 6th and is commemorated by a day of fasting (light snacking is permitted) to represent Mary’s journey to Bethlehem. Families then gather to join in a traditional supper, and sometimes even leave an empty place setting to represent loved ones who have passed on. Other traditions include placing a small handful of hay on the table to represent Jesus in the manger. Children are told to look for the first star in the sky, which symbolizes the start of festivities. The dinner is commonly comprised of 12 dishes to represent the 12 apostles. Everyone present is expected to try at least a small amount of the 12 dishes, and none of the dishes can contain any meat, animal fat, milk or milk products.
Before anyone starts to eat, the eldest family member recites a prayer as everyone stands at their place setting followed by a carol joined in by everyone.
The first dish served on Svyat Vechir is always kutya, which consists of cooked wheat mixed with honey, ground poppy seeds and sometimes nuts. If you’re interested in making kutya for your own family Christmas, here’s a recipe! Some families will throw a spoonful of kutya at the ceiling; if it sticks it is supposed to symbolize a good harvest in the coming year! Other common dishes served at a Ukrainian Christmas are borscht, pickled herring, pickled mushrooms, various fish baked or jellied, cabbage rolls, beans, pirogues, sauerkraut with peas, stewed fruit and an assortment of pastries. After the supper, the family will usually attend a midnight mass where they will be regaled with the story of the birth of Christ.
Another Ukrainian tradition is caroling at the homes of parishioners. Carolers are warmly received and are given very generous donations which then benefit either the church or other worthy causes. Traditionally, caroling took a lot of preparation. Each group had one leader, at least one member would dress up as a goat, and one person would collect all of the gifts and donations received. Sometimes members of the group would even carry instruments with them!
While Christmas trees are popular in the Ukraine, in some areas of Ukraine they also celebrate with a Didukh. A Didukh is a sheaf of oats or wheat made to resemble a small tree and adorns the dinner table. Additionally, in some regions they decorate Pysanky which are essentially Christmas themed Easter eggs.
Lastly, one of the most important and popular Christmas legends is that of the Christmas spider. Though there are many versions of this legend, here is one of them.
What are your favourite Christmas traditions? Contact us and let us know!