here and there

Friday, December 6, 2013

Canadian Ukrainian Christmas Tradition.. Rural style

Ritual Dish

Imagine days of celebrations focusing around family and food, along with singing Christmas carols after the Christmas meals, while waiting for midnight mass!  Imagine days of food not being pared with wines, in fact no wine glasses on the table!  Imagine not having to stress about gifts!  As no Santa existed!  Unbelievable!!  

Yes, there was a St Nicholas that came after  the children's Christmas concert!   A scary parishioner dressed in a moth eaten beard symbolizing someone with acts of kindness to the poor, especially the children.  One who used his inheritance  to help others especially to save children from sexual slavery.  He was also known to give gifts and to sometimes hang stockings filled with treats and gifts.  

Angels bring in St Nicholas

St Nicholas giving out bags of candy and oranges to the children!
St Nicholas Concert

St Nicholas Concert

St Nicholas Concert

After Christmas Eve dinner, midnight mass including everyone and all the children attending!  No one stressing that a change in ones' schedule may be of concern!  There where no excuses to not attend, it was part of the whole Christmas package and no one complained.  As a child, I remember how awesome this was!  Something so wonderfully waking up and hearing Christmas Carols and seeing the peaceful look on the faces of my parents'.  

Not everyone is ready to put up the Christmas Stocking after Midnight Mass! 

My first memory of Christmas, was the annual gathering of my Mom's siblings at my Grandparent's home for Christmas Eve.  All of my Grandparents' children attended, some had to drive a fair distance in Manitoba winter conditions, but they always came through.  

A spruce tree decorated with white candles was only lit during this special evening meal.

As a child, it was a highlight to to play in my grandparents house with my cousins who were all close in age.  Since the house was lit with kerosene lamps, many of the rooms were dark and an awesome place to play hide and seek!

The twelve course meatless and dairy less meal  started with Kutya, followed by Borcht with dumplings, Pickled Herring, Wild Mushroom, variety of Pyrohy, Cabbage rolls, Fish Aspic made from pickerel or white fish, Fruit Compote.  Mandarin oranges, nuts and candies were passed around as everyone sang Christmas Carols.  Gifts were passed around that my grandmother had ordered with care from the Eaton's catalogues.  
Church Christmas Dinner, 2013

Another special memory was of a rural picturesque Christmas when our family drove to my Dad's brother's place in Saskatchewan.  Not all of rural Saskatchewan was electrified at the same time due to the different payment scheduling from the Saskatchewan government.  As a teenager, it was quite the experience to see the flickering light of an open flame in the Kerosene lamps and the resulting glow in the room and on the faces.  Again, the meal started with Kutya followed by  meatless dishes.  Just as the meal was finishing, one could hear Sleigh Bells ringing as a horse drawn open sleigh came to view with carollers covered in the soft falling snow. 

Yes, I continue the tradition of preparing the twelve dishes for Christmas Eve dinner for my family.  Why, because there is such a connection to my past and a resulting sense of Christmas spirit in doing this.  As the first star appears, I think of my Dad coming in from the barn with that great broad smile of his, saying all the animals had been feed and that we could now leave for Grandma's for the Christmas Eve dinner. 

For  the last few years, my husband and I have been returning to celebrate Ukrainian Christmas in rural Manitoba.  There is something magical in returning to the country to spend this time with family and friends.  For me, it is a spiritual renewal and a reconnection to the past and present.  The local radio station continues to plays Christmas Carols throughout the whole time, with Christmas greetings from the local merchants for those celebrating this Christmas. 
2013-Horse drawn sleigh full of carollers

My aunt who is ninety- two this year, continues to prepare the meal with her sister and daughter in law in the party room of their seniors' complex.  It has been wonderful to be part of her family and to experience how they time manage this elaborate and delicious meal!  Only after having prepared this meal myself, have I gained the appreciation of all the work that goes into successfully carrying this meal out! 

Pampushky was my contribution 

After the wonderful supper, we drive to the midnight mass in a wooden church with a candle lit chandelier.  This church in the middle of the country fields is packed with local farmers and those from a nearby city. 

Lighting the candle Chandelier

My Christmas Eve dinner always begins with Kutya, the wheat berry dish sweetened with honey.  Kutya is a ritual dish and very much part of the Christmas Eve meal.  Custom is that everyone partakes of Kutya, no matter how small a portion this is!   The dish dates back to early cultivation of wheat in Ukraine before Christianity and is believed to be part of an ancient religion with the offering of wheat to the Sun God!

My recipe follows how I saw my Mom preparing this dish.  My father would proudly bring in his wheat from that year's crop.  The night before Christmas Eve, the wheat was rinsed with many washes and any husks that floated to the top of the water where removed.  The cleaned wheat was allowed to soften overnight and again rinsed in the morning.  Fresh water was added to the pot with the soften wheat and brought to boil.  This was done early in the morning.  Poppyseed is added at this time.  When the water came to boil, the wheat  simmered most of the day until soft.  Being careful to watch that the water does not evaporate and adding more water as necessary.  The final step is to add honey for flavour and sweetness.  My family likes to serve this wheat dish warm, but some serve it cold.  

This post is part of The Canadian Food Experience Project and features the Canadian Christmas Tradition.

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