Number one of our 'Five Key Ingredients for a Ukrainian Christmas' focuses on the traditions behind our Christmas celebrations.
We cannot cover all the old traditions, so our aim is to highlight the more modern and simpler ones so that our community can adopt some into their celebrations at home this year.
Ukrainian Christmas celebrations begin on January 6th, officially ending with the "Epiphany" on January 19th.
Свят Вечір: Christmas Eve
Ukrainian Christmas Eve is celebrated on January 6th, and is one of the biggest religious holidays. The Holy Evening is marked to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Important customs and folklore:
There are many customs and traditions associated with Christmas, varying from region to region. Many of these traditions are very old and have since been adapted for modern times.
Here is a summary of some of the more popular customs and folklore:
The whole family must spend this evening together, with tradition stating that those who spend it outside of the family circle will feel lonely throughout the following year.
On Christmas Eve, it is important to remember your ancestors. Before taking a seat at the table, one must blow above the chair to avoid to "not sit above the dead soul".
One spare setting is set at the table, in remembrance of deceased family members (or in some regions, the unexpected guest).
Kutya is placed on a sideboard or window sill along with a lit candle to commemorate deceased family members.
It is crucial to forgive all wrongdoers, so as to not take offense and bad luck into the new year.
The Legend of the Christmas Spider is a prominent folklore tradition in Ukraine. The story involves a poor hardworking widow, who could not afford to decorate a Christmas tree for her children. On Christmas Morning, they awoke to find the tree covered in cobwebs, which turned into gold and silver strands when touched by sunlight. The family were overjoyed, and never lived in poverty from then on. Nowadays, small spider ornaments are often placed on Ukrainian Christmas Trees.
The Holy Supper:
The most important part of Christmas Eve is the Holy Supper, which consists of 12 dishes. Traditionally, these dishes do not contain meat, milk, or eggs and the family will fast throughout the day. The meal begins when the children see the first star in the sky, symbolising the journey of the Three Wise Men.
The main dishes are as follows and other variants of these dishes are added to make a total of 12, including a variant on either Holubtsi or Varenyky. Some regions or households would limit the dishes to 7 or 9, which are other superstitious numbers.
Kolach with dipping of honey and salt.
Osyletsi (pickled herring).
Compote and other desserts.
One important ritual is the communal sharing of bread and honey. The head of the household, hospodar, offers small pieces of the bread along with salt and honey to each member of the household, beginning with the eldest, then his wife. The bread is offered with the greeting "Chrystos razhdayet'sia" (Christ is born), which is answered by "Slavite Yeho" (let us praise Him).
At the end of the Supper, families often sing carols together, one of the most popular being Boh Predvichnyj.
Христос Рождається! - Славітe його!
Christ is born! - Let us praise him!
Різдво: Orthodox Christmas Day
Christmas Day in Ukraine is celebrated on January 7th. The second Christmas Supper is eaten on this day, with meat and alcohol allowed to be enjoyed.
Дідух, didukh: is a symbolic Christmas decoration made from a sheaf of wheat. Traditionally, didukhy are made from the first or last stalks of wheat reaped in the year. The decoration is considered to be the embodiment of the ancestors' spirits. The Didukh is kept in the home from Christmas until January 19th.
Колач, kolach: a traditional Christmas bread which is braided into a ring. At Christmas, three breads are stacked to represent the Holy Trinity, with a candle placed in the centre. Kolaches are a symbol of luck and prosperity, and in some regions can not be eaten until Christmas Day.
Medivnyk: is a traditional honey bread often eaten on Christmas Day. This has since evolved into a layered honey cake, known as medianyk.
Маланка: New Year's Eve
Маланка, or Old New Year's Eve, is celebrated on January 13th in accordance with the Julian Calendar. Historically, Malanka was banned in Soviet Ukraine. Since independence, however, Ukraine is becoming a leader in reviving the tradition.
Traditions include a travelling puppet theatre, known as Вертеп (vertep), which performs shows such as the Nativity Scene, but also every-day life, featuring characters such as the Ukrainian Cossack. These travelling performances have since become heavily intertwined with the singing of Ukrainian Shchedrivky (carols) and often travel between villages. More recently, children have become involved in the acting out of these plays.
2021 Christmas Service:
If you would like to attend mass, the Christmas service in Huddersfield will take place on January 7th, at 2pm at St Patrick's Church. The address is 32 New North Road, HD1 5JY.
Adopt Your Own Traditions:
As you have seen, there are many traditions associated with Ukrainian Christmas festivities. This year, we encourage you and your family to celebrate and cook your very own Sviaty Vechir, even if it is only one or two dishes.
Also, why not adopt at least one tradition or custom for your meal and pass this to future generations? Preserving Ukrainian and family traditions are very important and also a fun way to celebrate and remember your heritage. For example, light a candle on the window sill to remember your family's departed or one extra setting at the table for the unexpected guest.
Join us on social media and let us know your favourite Ukrainian Christmas traditions! Share any other traditions you may know and also let us know if you have modern adaptations or new traditions you have created.