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Friday, January 9, 2015

2015 Ukrainian Christmas Eve wrap up across Canada

As the winds howl and the temperature drops, Jan 6th is looked forward by many as a special day wrapped in tradition, family gatherings, spiritual and religious beliefs.

Traditions and spirituality are at the heart of Ukrainian Christmas and there is less of an emphasis on gift-giving than in a traditional North American Christmas celebration.

Preparation begins early for this feast, my Mom started this preparation a week before, where as I usually start much earlier by making and freezing Pyrohy and Holopchi's

For the last four years, we have been spending this time in Northern Manitoba and celebrate with my 92 year old aunt and her family.  The 12  traditional dishes were prepared for around twenty people by my aunt with the help of her sister and daughter in law for a couple of weeks before the celebration.

This year, with the holiday being in the middle of the week, we spent Ukrainian Christmas at home

My Brother who normally also attends the celebration at our Aunt's spent Ukrainian Christmas in Winnipeg at friends.



A small bale of hay was placed under the table to symbolize the manger.

Looking across Canada, here are some of the links I found about this celebration in other provinces

From Edmonton, 
Olesia Luciw-Andryjowycz, with the help of her sister-in-law Irene Miskiw, Luciw-Andryjowycz spent most of Tuesday preparing an elaborate vegetarian feast for Christmas Eve featuring kutya — cooked wheat with honey and poppy seeds — sauerkraut, cabbage rolls, pickled herring and other traditional dishes, brought out one by one. 

 Thirty two family members were welcomed into her home in North Edmonton, the smells of simmering red borscht and sounds of Ukrainian Christmas carols filled the room. 

Only when the first star was spotted in the sky did the family sit down and eat.

Two tables adorned with embroidered tablecloths, and garlic at each corner to ward off evil, were set side by side in the home to accommodate the large crowd and 12 traditional foods. 

Nearby the family is a sheaf of wheat, a reminder of the farmlands where the Ukrainian family came from.
Luciw-Andryjowycz’s parents were just one of the many families that move to Alberta from Ukraine in the late 1940s and 1950s. 

When the first star appears and the family sits down to eat, they share blessed leavened bread, wishing each other good health, prosperity and happiness. But for most, the turmoil in their homeland isn’t far from their minds. “We will say quite a few prayers for Ukraine this year,” Luciw-Andryjowycz said.

In Saskatoon, – A celebration rich with tradition is underway in homes throughout Saskatchewan.  Families gathered  to celebrate Ukranian Christmas Eve, according to the Julian calendar.
Pat Hawryliw’s grandparents moved from Ukraine to Saskatchewan 115 years ago.  Three generations later, the traditions of their homeland remain deeply rooted.  “It’s just a thing, engrained in you that you feel that you have to do,” said Hawryliw, seated at the kitchen table where a candle burns at the center of three loaves of bread, representing the Holy Trinity.
Christmas Eve afternoon, the head of the family will place a sheaf of wheat in a corner of the residence.  Traditionally it is placed under the table to symbolize the manger.  When the first star is spotted, a feast begins with a wheat grain pudding.
“That dish is called kutia and every meal starts with it and it is a symbol of Jesus and the last supper.”
Hawryliw has spent three days preparing food for Christmas Eve.  In total, 12 meatless dishes will be served signifying the end of fasting during 40 days of advent.  Borsht, cabbage rolls (holubtsi) and perogies (varenyky) are part of the meal along with several other dishes made from harvest grains, garden vegetables, and orchard fruits.
Focus on family and religion keeps the traditions strong, “We don’t have the commercialism involved in it as much.  It’s more of a spiritual thing. Gifts are not given out,” Hawryliw said.
In Regina
For Barb Dedi, the days of work that goes into preparing 30 dishes for a Ukrainian Christmas Eve feast is all worthwhile when she can share those traditions with people from around the world.

“We started back in the 70s first just with the family, but then about 20 years ago we started to open up our home to invite many different cultures including Chinese, Mexican, Sudanese, Caribbean, First Nations, Metis, Polish, German and Turkish, so they can experience Ukrainian Christmas,” she said.

Dedi prepares a total of 30 meatless dishes including 12 traditional dishes starting with kutia made of wheat and honey, plus borscht, nachinka (corn meal), stewed fruit, multiple kinds of cabbage rolls, garlic beans, sauerkraut, fish and pickled fish to name just a few.

Although Dedi didn’t grow up with traditional Ukrainian food as "My dad and his ancestors when they first came to Canada didn’t like being Ukrainian because there was a lot of discrimination against Ukrainian people.” 

 She was determined to learn all she could about the Ukrainian culture and other cultures from around the world. Her kids grew up immersed in Ukrainian cultural traditions including dance and language classes.

This year, Dedi’s daughter is also sharing with different cultures by making Ukrainian Christmas feast in Guatemala, just like she did when she spent four years in Kuwait.

This Christmas will be particularly significant for their family as they mark the passing of her ex-husband with a small table set in his honor as part of the tradition to set an extra place for those who have passed on. 

“The hay by the window is for good luck and it’s also to represent the animals – the animals on the farm would always get part of the meal,” she explained.  “Also we put a candle in the window to welcome the homeless.  At the front door when you come in there is salt to keep illnesses away and also garlic.”

Traditional bread called kolach sits on every table, but it cannot be eaten on Christmas Eve because it a symbol of Christ.

Some of the other traditions like throwing the wheat mixture on the ceiling and leaving all the leftovers out all night have lapsed a bit because they aren’t very practical, but Dedi does leave some dishes out all night.  But they do maintain the tradition of making sure every guest tastes every single dish – even those that aren’t too popular.
Ukrainian Christmas Eve. 
At 81 years old, Jenny Mysak still host the traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve dinner for her family every year.
"I think it's a very nice tradition. My mother brought me up, and I try to maintain it for my daughters and my granddaughters and the family. It's a lot of work, but it's a beautiful tradition."
It takes Mysak two weeks to prepare enough pierogis and cabbage rolls, which are big favourites.
She gets help from her son-in-law, Greg Bedik, to handle the fish, as meat is not allowed at a nativity supper.
He prepares it by breading the fish in an egg yolk and milk batter, but "I don't fry it, we just bake it and it's one of the 12 traditional dishes that we make for the evening."

Mysak's family begins their meal with a prayer and then an entree of borscht soup.

Her granddaughter, Natalia Bedik, says she loves spending time with her family and finds
"Ukrainian Christmas is all about the traditions"

The most heartwarming story for me was from Vancouver Chinese seniors usually don’t eat a lot of perogies. But they got their chance on Tuesday at the Vancouver Second Mile Society, which served up a special Ukrainian Christmas lunch. “(The) food is good,” said Harry Lee, 78.
“I like this (cabbage roll), and this (kielbasa). Excellent. Thank very much whoever thought of this, thank them very much. Okay?”
The lunch was conceived by volunteer coordinator Judy Chartrand, who was looking to do something different at the Downtown Eastside seniors centre.

There are several turkey dinners in Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhood at Christmas. But Ukrainian Christmas is celebrated according to the old Julian calendar, which means Christmas Day is Jan. 7, not Dec. 25.
So she decided to throw this year’s Christmas dinner a couple of weeks later, when people might really need it. And to serve Ukrainian food, not turkey.
“Everybody’s kind of turkeyed out,” she reasons.
“So (serving) all the Ukrainian foods — the cabbage rolls, perogies, sausages and stuff — we thought would be a good thing.”
Ukrainians traditionally have a big meal on Christmas Eve, so at about 11:30 a.m. Chartrand and several volunteers started serving approximately 100 seniors. 

The food went down well with a table full of elderly Chinese ladies, who quickly devoured the meals served in Styrofoam containers.  But trying to interview them proved fruitless — they spoke little to no English.

James Pau explained there are typical of many Chinese seniors in Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside.
“Some think (all) Chinese people are rich,” said Pau, a volunteer for  four decades.
“Actually no, many are poor. Especially this group — they have very little or no education at all. They’re from Mainland China mostly, from the southern part.
“Now the Chinese (immigrants) come from the north, where they speak Mandarin, but this group is mainly from the south, where they speak Cantonese.”

In any event, Pau said it was easy to see why the ladies enjoyed the Ukrainian food.
“It’s similar to Chinese cooking,” he said. “Perogies are similar to Chinese dumplings.”

The Ukrainian Christmas festivities will wrap on Jan. 19, with the Feast of the Epiphany.
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