Celebrating Ukrainian Christmas in January

From our January 2014 issue

By Naden Hewko – Macklin, Sask.

Christmas was always celebrated on Jan. 7 in our home, as my parents had immigrated to Canada from Ukraine. Christmas Eve, the Holy Supper, Svyata Vecherya, was the most special evening of the season. That day, Jan. 6, kept mother busy preparing the 12 dishes.

When the first star appeared in the sky, everyone was called to the table covered with the best tablecloth and set with the Sunday dishes. Prayers were said and one verse of God Eternal sung before we could begin eating.

The first dish served was kutia – boiled wheat sweetened with honey and flavoured with crushed poppy seeds. Next came borsch, beet soup, and kalach, braided bread. Fish fried in oil, 2 kinds of perogies, and 2 kinds of cabbage rolls (rice and buckwheat filled) came next. A delicious mushroom and onion sauce accompanied those foods.

Some families served mashed white beans with garlic as a side dish. The dessert was a compote of stewed dried fruit and pumpushkies (like donuts without the hole). A poppyseed roll and little fruit-filled rolls completed the meal.

The meal ended with the lighting of the candles on the Christmas tree and the singing of another verse of the carol God Eternal, Boh Predvichnie.

The candles were immediately blown out after the song to prevent a fire. Our parents listened to the radio to the Christmas Mass in Ukrainian broadcast from St. George’s Church in Saskatoon.

We often grew sleepy and were put to bed not with visions of Santa coming, but of the visiting on our Christmas day. The families took turns hosting the big meal. And as Christmas was celebrated in 2 more days, in honour of St. Stephen and St. John, we had company one day, for sure.

One Christmas it was extremely mild and our family visited friends living just a mile out of the village of Paynton. After the supper, the parents suggested that we young people which included teenagers should walk into town and sing carols for an elderly couple who could not go out.

So off we went and the old Ukrainian couple did enjoy our singing. The custom is for carollers to visit homes during the 3 days of Christmas. When my parents retired to North Battleford, the carollers came to their home and brought joy to them.

That was many years ago and now, we just have memories of those celebrations. These days, I celebrate Christmas Dec. 25, as this is when our adult family has time off, but on Jan. 6 and 7, I relive the traditions of my parents and invite company over and make the Ukrainian dishes.