Ukrainians Celebrate With Food, Family, and Wheat
- Ukraine celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7th in accordance with the Eastern Orthodox religious calendar. However, December 25th has also recently been named an official holiday in Ukraine.
- 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 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!
- In Ukrainian Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Христос Рождається’ (Christ is Born).
- The room where Sviata Vecheria is eaten normally has a Didukh decoration placed in it. The Didukh is a made from wheat and symbolizes the large wheat fields in Ukraine. It literally means ‘grandfather spirit’ and can represent people’s ancestors being with them in their memories.
- After the meal, people love to sing carols or ‘Koliadky’. They can be sung around the table or go from door to door to neighbours as a Vertep.
- The Ukrainian carol ‘Shchedryk’ is where the popular ‘Carol of the Bells’ came from.
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