Archive | December 2013

Merry Christmas X Two !

Christmas time is the greatest time of all to get together with your family and friends.

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You’ll have noticed in previous posts that I do say “Merry Christmas” and not Happy Holidays nor Season’s Greetings.  I am not trying to be rude nor ignorant of the fact that I’m not being “politically correct” because not everyone celebrates Christmas.  No, in my opinion, I am just being Canadian.

Being Canadian means that we are a multicultural country and we recognize each other’s uniqueness in language, dress, food preferences and various celebrations throughout the year.  We say Happy Diwali at the Hindu Festival of Lights that is celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs.  We say Eid Mubarak, a traditional Muslim greeting, on the festivals of Eid ul-Adha and Eid ul-Fitr.  We say Gung Hay Fat Choy for Chinese New Year.  We respect one another’s cultures.  We all live in Canada, and for that reason, I will continue to say Merry Christmas at this time of the year!

This year’s Christmas at our house was wonderful.  It’s always good to see the family and of course eat some delicious turkey with mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing…oh, I better stop before I make everyone hungry again and you’ll want more.  My Man barbecued our bird this year!

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But don’t despair, it’s okay to want more because this is just our first Christmas of the season.  As Ukrainian- Canadians, we also celebrate Ukrainian Christmas on January 7.  (Coming soon – new blogs and I’ll be adding more authentic Ukrainian Christmas recipes).

When I was growing up in my small prairie village, our family like many other Ukrainian families, celebrated two Christmases.

We celebrated December 25 because school was out for the holidays and our dad had time off from his work for a few days.

It was at this time that I went with my friend Gingersnap to her Pentecotal church.  Yes, here I was a good Ukrainian Catholic girl attending another church!  Gasp, some would even think it blasphemous!  Really…that’s the way some people in our small town thought back then.  I hope that it’s changed.

I remember this one year at her church in particular.  We sang English Christmas carols, read poems and I even had a part in the Nativity play that year.  I was Mary and I got to wear an old bedsheet and cradle my own “Ginger” doll (aka baby Jesus).  I felt very special being the mother to the baby Jesus.  Mom came and watched me but we never told anyone at our church about this special time.

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At the end of the church concert, we were all given bags of candy to take home.  This is a good memory for me.  I can still see, smell and feel the little brown paper bag filled with hard rock candy and most importantly, a real Christmas orange.  This was a real treat for our family because we never had a lot of money and could never afford to buy these special Christmas oranges.  I used to think that this church and all of its people were so kind.  They welcomed us and shared their good wishes with us even if we really “didn’t belong”.

I learned a long time ago that it doesn’t matter where or when you celebrate Christmas.  It’s not about the decorations, the gifts or even the food.  Christmas is about the people you share time with.

No matter what nationality or what greeting you gave to one another this past Christmas, I hope you had a wonderful memorable day filled with love.

Come back in a few days and I will tell you about celebrating our second Christmas – a Ukrainian-Canadian  Christmas!

Happy New Year!

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O Holy Night!

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Thank you for visiting my blog.  Take good care of yourselves this holiday season.

Be safe, be healthy and above all…be happy!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Petrosha

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Oh Christmas Tree!

It’s quite traditional to have an evergreen tree decorated to become a Christmas tree.

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There are so many types of trees to choose now a days.  There’s the Spruce, Douglas Fir, Noble Fir, Nordstrom, Grand Fir and even a Charlie Brown tree.  I am talking about the real trees, not the artificial plastic ones that are so prevalent in homes.

For our house, it has to be a real tree!

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Not sure why I am so adamant every year that our tree has to be real.  It may have something to do with the wonderful scent that a fresh tree brings into the house.  It may be that I associate an evergreen with the frosty winter days on the prairies and of being bundled up in layers of winter woollens.  Perhaps just for me, a real tree each year symbolizes renewed faith and happiness in a home.

My earliest recollection of Christmas is when I was seven years old.  As you read this post, let’s see if I can take you back to an adventure of mine so many years ago.

My brother, who had a way of getting me into all sorts of interesting situations aka trouble (see earlier posts), and I got dressed in our warmest winter clothes and headed out the door in search of a tree.

It was a cold prairie afternoon.  We were dressed in knit sweaters under our parkas.  On our feet we wore dad’s grey wool socks inside our black high-top rubber boots.  This particular day, we had two pair of mittens on our hands.  Our toques were pulled down to our eyes and the scarves were pulled over our mouths all the way up to our noses.  No skin exposed except for the slits for our eyes!  Our warm breath caused a puff of steam to rise out of the scarves.  Icicles would form on the wool in just a matter of seconds!

With a small hatchet in hand, our sheet metal sleigh and our dog, Snoopy, my brother and I headed out that day to the very back of our property.  We walked on top of at least 3 feet of crispy hard packed snow.  If we were lucky we wouldn’t break through and sink up to our waists!  Snoopy of course took giant leaps and crashed through, only to emerge a few feet ahead of us.  I remember how only the top of her head could be seen bounding along through the snow banks.  She loved coming out with us on our adventures.

There was a barb-wire fence at the back of our yard and we had to be careful crawling in between the wires to get through.  The snow-covered ground went on for acres and was as flat as could be.  No one had recently walked out here and there were no animal tracks either.  Sometimes we saw rabbits and even coyotes out here.  But not today.

We continued on until we came to the “bush” as I called it.  This forested area was beside a deep ravine and it was dense with shrubs.  There were lots of young spruce trees growing in amongst the poplar and maple trees.  We looked around for a bit and found a tree that was the right size and shape for our family’s living room.  We chopped it down.  We didn’t waste any time out there because we were hot and sweaty from all that walking and we were now getting cold.  It was also starting to get dark outside.  We loaded up the tree and headed for home.

Now this is the part I really remember well.  As we were almost back to the barb-wire fence and our property, someone in the distance yelled out at us.  My brother told me to hurry because we could get shot at!  And yes, just as we scrambled back through the fence, pulling the sleigh with our prize tree, loud shots from a shot gun were heard.  Whether or not any buckshot came flying at us, we never knew.  The two of us were running as fast as we could, breaking through the snow, falling and sinking.  But we kept on moving.  Not to worry about Snoopy however as she was a smart dog and was way ahead of us as we all ran for home!

As you can guess, we had chopped down a tree from someone’s property.  He lived in an old brick house in that bush and was known around the town as a grouchy old man.  My brother had nicknamed him Bela Lugosi back then and it was only recently that I figured out why.

I remember that Christmas tree well.  It had been four years since a tree had been set up at our house.  It was the first Christmas that I recall growing up as a child.

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That Christmas, we had the tree with the old glass ornaments and coloured lights.   Straw was put under the dinner table and candles were lit to welcome our guests.  We had lots of relatives over for dinner.  We ate kutia, borscht, perogies and cabbage rolls.  Uncle Metro’s family gave us a box of chocolates. In return, Uncle got a pack of cigarettes from us.  I received one memorable gift.  It was a fuzzy brown store-bought sweater.

Why do I remember all this so clearly?  You see, when I was three years old, my eldest sister had passed away.  Thinking back, it had been so very hard on my parents.  Our home was very sad for a long  time.  We never talked about it when I was young, but I now believe that after those four years of sadness, our real tree that year helped to restore faith and happiness in our home at Christmas time.

Not sure whose idea it was to get that real tree that year.  But I’m glad we did.

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First Snow and skiing !

The first snow fall of the year is always so exciting!  The temperature outside has fallen below 0 degrees Celsius and the flakes are big, fluffy, and softly falling to the ground.

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Not everyone is as excited as I am about seeing the snow.  Depending on where you live, a snowfall can be a very stressful event, especially if you are not prepared for it.

Growing up on the Prairies meant a lot of cold temperatures and piles and piles of snow.  But it was okay.  We knew that we had to prepare for it.  The warm winter “woollies” were taken out of storage in early November.  We had fleece-lined snow boots, hand knitted toques, scarves and of course, several pairs of mittens.  You had to have lots of mitts because they would get wet from all the snowballs we made or the snowmen that we built.  If I close my eyes, I can still smell the wet, soggy mittens.  Yes, just like a wet dog, wet woolen mittens give off a certain aroma.

We never felt the cold.  It could be -24C outside and we’d stay out for several hours every day after school.  We’d build snow forts, challenge the neighbourhood kids to snowball fights and even play tag games in the fluffy snow until it got dark out.  On the Prairies, it was often dark by 4:30pm during the winter months.

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I recall one year when my brother decided that we should build a ski hill in our back yard out of our pile of snow.

This pile of snow was around 20 feet high and was the result of our Uncle Metro’s bulldozer.  Once a year, Uncle would come with his “cat” and plough all of the snow in our backyard and pile it right in the middle of the yard.  It cleared the driveway and most of the backyard, making it easier for my dad to drive in and out of the yard.  This was a lot better than having us shovel out the driveway.

And of course, it gave us kids a huge pile of snow to play in.  Once we tunneled right through the middle of it and it became our igloo.  Funny, come to think of it, no one ever thought that it might collapse in on us!  Now a days, kids wouldn’t be allowed to go near it, let alone climb into it.

So this one year, we were going to have our mountain and we would downhill ski.  Maybe this had something to do with Nancy Green winning Gold at the Olympics!  I don’t really remember but whatever it was, we were going to do this!  I say we because my brother and I did so many memorable things together!

We had the snow and all we needed now were skis.  What to do?  We couldn’t afford to buy any.  I knew I could rely on my brother to come up with a solution.  He always had great ideas and could solve this dilemma too.  He designed and created our toboggans!  You see, our toboggans were flattened cardboard boxes or old bits of leftover sheet metal.  They worked really well whenever we wanted  to go sledding.  So these skis would be his homemade creation too!

A couple of 6 foot long 2 x 4s were cut with the handsaw, sanded and even shaped to resemble skis.  When you were as young as I was, I didn’t know better and I thought that these skis were the real thing!  They looked liked skis and I was even given poles.

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Wow, I really looked like the downhill skiers that I had seen on tv.

You may of already picked up that my brother had all of these great ideas and made great items…for me! Ah, these are the memories that my big brother helped create for me !

Here’s a wonderful book that you may enjoy about winters on the Canadian Prairies.  It’s called If You’re Not from The Prairie by David Bouchard.

http://www.davidbouchardbooks.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=ISBN+1-895714-66-4

 

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Ukrainian Weddings

On this day I will marry my friend, 

the one who shares my dreams, my life, my love…

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Weddings are joyful events and can be a lot of fun.  No matter what culture, ethnic, religious or social group, weddings are ceremonies where people are united in marriage.  Traditions and customs may vary but this special event is a public profession of love by which a man and woman commit themselves to each other for life.  “It is a contract, a covenant, and when it is done in faith and in the presence of a priest, Christ’s representative, it is a sacrament: a mystery, a sign of God’s continuing activity among us.”

Okay, before I lose all of you, I want to explain why I am writing about marriage at this time.

In the last few days, I have been reflecting on the “sacrament of marriage”.

As many of you are aware, My Man and I celebrated our 30th anniversary this year. We were married in the Ukrainian Catholic church and have wonderful memories of family and friends sharing our day with us.  The Sacrament of Marriage to me as it is to many Ukrainian Catholics is a renewed life together in Christ.

It was an honour last week to attend a wedding of a young couple just starting out on their married life. This couple, Jen and Shawn, had a civil ceremony a few years back but Jen has always wanted to have “a church wedding”.  Well, actually, it still wasn’t a ceremony held in a church, but it was a Catholic service.  This celebration was made even more special because Jen’s uncle, an ordained Ukrainian Catholic priest, performed the ceremony.  It was a lovely gathering of relatives and friends.

I was asked to make the wreaths, or “crowns” for the young couple.

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These crowns, made of periwinkle, are placed on the heads of the bride and groom. They amplify the meaning of the rings that encircle their fingers. The couple’s hands are joined with an embroidered cloth (rushnyk) to signify their newly forged union.  The joining of their hands reflects the joining of their hearts.

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The couple’s hearts, heads and hands must work together in love. This is a high point of the ceremony. When the priest removes the crowns, he’ll ask for a blessing “Receive this couple’s crowns into your Kingdom”.  Symbolically, this marriage will grow into a perfect love which alone can only come from God.  Mnohaya Lita Jen and Shawn !

If you are interested in knowing more about Ukrainian wedding ceremonies in Canada, you may wish to check out a few of these websites that I found.

http://www.stnicholaschurch.ca/content_pages/ourfaith/art_faith003.FAQ.htm

http://www.weddingsatsoyuzivka.com/traditions.html

Growing up, my recollections of Ukrainian weddings are not so much about the ceremony but the wedding receptions and the Vesillia (весілля) that followed.  Whenever my parents or even my friend’s parents were invited to a wedding, we all went.  I think that’s why some Ukrainian weddings had well over 300 guests.  Everyone knew someone so they would go, personal invitations not necessary.  “…oh yes, the bride?  She is the daughter to Aunt Olga’s second cousin’s niece…sure, I know her!”

No one hired babysitters back then either. Everyone came, no matter the age. I recall sleeping in the backseat of our car with my sister and brother, while our parents danced the night away.

I also fondly recall a couple of my uncles who loved to go up to the bar once or twice during the evening.  I think this helped them rehydrate after dancing the vibrant polkas, hopak, or kozochok. My Uncle Metro taught me to do a whirlwind polka with him but he also taught me how to cool off with a vodka shot!  But that’s another story!

At some point at any Ukrainian wedding, I recall that a funny thing would happen.  The band would play only a few notes.  But my uncles, aunts, cousins, in fact almost everyone would actually leave the tables and the bar and form a large circle on the dance floor. This was a sure sign that a kolomeyka would begin. The kolomeyka is a traditional Ukrainian dance that features a medley of leaps, kicks, and spins. I’ll leave you now with a couple of links if you’ve never seen this dance.

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