Archive | January 2014

Свята Вечерa (Svyata Vechera)

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If you are a Ukrainian wife and mom, you may understand why I am late posting this entry.  I was kind of “busy” with the preparations for Christmas and yes, exhausted after all of the recent festivities.

Christmas Eve at our house was a most important day and it was wonderful to have our family and friends join us.  In the recent days, however, I have been asked to please explain the significance of the Christmas Eve foods that are served.  There are lots of blogs and websites that talk about various aspects of the Christmas that is celebrated on January 6th. according to the Julian calendar.  I am not going to rehash this information but I am going to include some of the customs as I talk about my Ukrainian Christmas experiences growing up in a Ukrainian home.

The main event at our home was the evening meal, the Holy Supper (Svyata Vechera).  It was important that everyone in our family be home for this meal.  If it wasn’t possible, a place setting was still set.  A place setting was also set each year for my sister who had passed away (as mentioned in an earlier post).  This symbolized the spiritual unity between all living and deceased members of our family.

Before we set the table, my dad would bring in some clean straw from the barn and we would spread some of it under the table.  Some was also spread on the tabletop and we would then cover it with our best Ukrainian embroidered table-cloth.  The kolach and a lighted candle was placed in the centre.  This straw and lit candle symbolized the birth of Christ in the manger and Christ being the light of the world.  I used to think it funny because the straw made bumps under the table-cloth and the kolach never sat flat.  IMG_7051Now if you lived on a farm and cared for animals such as cows, horses or pigs, you would ensure that all of these animals would be fed and comfortably bedded down for the night before our dinner.  And after dinner, a  little bit of food was also given to the animals.  I think this was a belief that even the animals would know it was Christmas Eve because after all, the animals were the first creatures to behold Christ when he was born.  Legend has it that on Christmas Eve, the animals possess miraculous powers of speech and talk amongst themselves even to predicting the future.

Even though we did not live on a farm, my parents still owned a few chickens.  So it was always the “kids” responsibility to go outside and feed the hens and roosters a bit more grain before our dinner.  I recall it was always so dark and so cold outside.  You see we had our chicken coop at the back of our property and no, we did not have a yard light.  Not sure if I’d be too eager to trudge in the dark through the deep snow these days!

Traditionally the head of the household would bring a sheaf of wheat into the house, place it in a corner of the room near the set dinner table, and then say a short verse proclaiming the birth of Christ.

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We don’t bring in the wheat but I do set a lighted candle in our window each Christmas Eve.  This is a special significance as it is an invitation to a stranger or a lonely person to join our family in this Holy celebration.  My Man jokes with me each year and says that one of these years someone who we do not know will come knocking on our door.  If you know me, then you know that I would invite and welcome them in.

Svyata Vechera always begins when the first star appears in the sky.  When I was younger, our family started by singing a Christmas carol, usually Boh Predvichny and saying a prayer.  It was such a solemn time.  Not sure why but when I think back, it always felt sad.  Perhaps it was a reminder of how lucky we were to be able to sit down together as a family.  Perhaps it was the empty place setting that reminded us of other Christmas dinners.

One tradition that always livened up our table was when dad would take a spoonful of the kutya and throw it up at the ceiling.  Now according to custom, the number of kernels that stuck to the ceiling foretold the prosperity for the upcoming year.  If many adhered, the year would be a good and prosperous one.  It was always a joke as to who had to wash the ceiling!

Our meal was a traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve supper.  Mom ensured that we had twelve different and special dishes.  I was taught that these twelve dishes symbolize the twelve apostles.  But in some parts of Ukraine, these dishes symbolize the twelve months of the year.

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The foods were all free from meat and dairy products.  The traditional menu included kutya (boiled wheat with honey and poppy seed), borscht ee wooshka (beet soup with mushroom dumplings), holobsti (cabbage rolls with rice or buckwheat fillings), pyrohy (boiled dumplings filled with potato, sauerkraut, or prunes), fish (baked), pickled herring, pidpenky (mushrooms), beans, oozvar (stewed dried fruit), pampushy (deep fried pyrohy made with sweet yeast dough and filled with poppy-seed, prunes or apples), makivnyk (poppy seed cake) or medivnyk (honey cake), kolach, as well as various nuts and dried fruits.

I have tried to keep this Ukrainian tradition going for my family.  I have deviated from the menu a bit but I have tried to keep it meatless.  It’s always a pleasure to invite our family and friends over and share these traditions with them.

Hey, wait a minute!  Maybe these extended family members and friends are the reason I keep a lighted candle in the window.  Maybe these people are “the strangers or the lonely”.  I’d rather call them the lucky few who get a chance to “be Ukrainian” with us if even for a day!

Be sure to check out some of my Ukrainian Christmas recipes in Pages!

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