Parents brought Ukrainian customs to Canada

From our January 2017 issue

By Naden Hewko – Macklin, Sask.

My parents immigrated to Canada from Ukraine in the late 1920s, bringing their ethnic customs with them. We especially loved the Holy Supper shared the evening before Christmas Day. This special meal consisted of 12 meatless dishes; a number chosen in memory of the 12 Apostles.

It was considered a very holy, special family time. The table was set with white tablecloth and the best dishes. A candle in the round loaf of bread (kalach) centered the table. Saved for this occasion, a sheaf of wheat was set under the icon of Jesus hanging on the wall. Decorated up, a real fir tree was set in a corner.

My mother worked tirelessly to prepare the meal. We children were supposed to watch for the first star to appear as that signalled time for us to gather around the table. After saying The Lord’s Prayer, the first dish was served.

Kutia, wheat simmered with crushed poppy seeds and sweetened with honey was first. Next was borsch (beet soup) served with a slice of the kalach. Fish, two kinds of perogies, two kinds of cabbage rolls, and a mushroom sauce followed. Mother picked wild mushrooms and with onions, cooked the most delicious sauce.

Meal ended with singing

For dessert, there was a compote of cooked dried fruit and deep fried pumpyshkies (like donuts without the hole). The meal ended with singing the Christmas carol God Eternal.

I’ve kept the custom of preparing a Ukrainian supper on Jan. 6 for our children and grandchildren and they enjoy the food as much as the turkey dinner we share on the Dec. 25.

The families celebrated this according to the old Julian calendar used by the Ukrainian church for centuries, so Christmas Eve fell on Jan. 6. My parents told us that on Christmas Day, groups of young people would go around to different homes and sing Christmas carols.

One year we were invited for Christmas Day, Jan. 7, to friends living just outside of our village. They had three children and there were three of us all in our early teens. “Why can’t we go and sing carols to the older Ukrainian couples living in the town?” we asked.

Welcomed into their home

It wasn’t a long walk into town and the weather was unusually mild – just below freezing with no wind. Both sets of parents thought it was a great idea and it was a way to get us out of the house so they could visit without our giggles.

Off we walked and knocked on an old couples’ door. They were surprised to see us and welcomed us in. We proceeded to sing the few carols we knew in Ukrainian and they joined in. We enjoyed taking part in an old custom of our heritage and had to turn down their offer of food as we wanted to get back before dark.

I still enjoy hearing the Ukrainian Christmas carols and still play old records that brings back many fond memories.

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