Sunday, January 06, 2008

Orthodox Christmas actually, though in this part of the world (western Canada) that term is hardly ever heard, and tomorrow is always referred to as Ukrainian Christmas. The celebration of Christmas on January 7th rather than December 25th dates from the old Julian calender, still in use in most Orthodox churches worldwide. It is not just "Ukrainian Christmas" but also Russian, Serbian Ethiopian, Bulgarian , and Georgian Christmas. The Armenian Church celebrates the day on January 6th. I also "think"January 7th is the date of Romanian Christmas. The old Julian calender is 13 days behind the Gregorian one in most common use today. Strangely enough in Greece, the homeland of Orthodoxy, Christmas is held on the Gregorian calender date of December 25th. This began with an edict by the patriarch of Constantinople soon after WW1 when he decided for the adoption of the new calender. Only orthodox monks stationed in Jerusalem and in the Greek monastery of Mount Athos still observe the old date.
In traditional Ukrainian households Christmas Eve (tonight) held more importance than Christmas Day (tomorrow). Families were to gather for a celebratory meal which couldn't begin until the first star of the evening was seen. The traditional meal consisted of twelve meatless dishes, Christmas Eve being still considered part of the 40 days fasting period before Christmas when eating meat was forbidden. The Roman Catholic Church had a similar dietary restriction in Advent, but it is doubtful if many modern Ukrainians or Roman Catholics know about this, let alone observe it. The Christmas Eve meal is known as the Sviata Vechera (Holy Supper).
Many of the traditions observed at this meal, and that of its Russians equivalent, date from prechristian practices. Tables were to be covered with two tablecloths, one for the family ancestors and the other for the living family members. A separate place at the table was to be reserved for the convenience of whatever ghostly ancestral guests might show up. Some hay was to be spread under the table as well as under the tablecloth. A kolach (Christmas Bread) consisting of three braided rings placed one on top of the other was set on the table to symbolize the Trinity and eternity (the circular form). The didukh (translation "grandfather), a sheaf of wheat or mixed grain stalks is placed in a place of honour on the table. Stalks are also placed under any icons present in the house. The head of the household places a bowl of kutia, the first course of the meal before it, to begin the dinner.
Talk to several different people and you will get several different stories about what exactly the 12 meatless courses are to consist of. This is because they actually do vary from place to place even back in Ukraine, let alone amongst the Ukrainian diaspora across the world. What follows is a "typical" menu for the meal. There are many variations.
1)Kutya, a porridge of wheat, poppy seeds, honey and sometimes nuts.
2)Borscht, a soup consisting of beets and potatoes with perhaps the addition of carrots, onions, cabbage and tomatoes.
3)Baked or fried fish. Any variety, but if fried must be done only with vegetable oils.
4)Oseledsi, pickled fish, usually (but not always) herring.
5)Holubtsi, cabbage rolls filled with grain.
6)Varenyky, filled with potato,prunes,cabbage or sauerkraut
7)Pirogies, another dumpling filled with one of the above.
8)Cooked beans.
9)Kapusta, cabbage and peas.
10)Beets with mushrooms.
11)Fruit compote.
12)Pampushky, Deep fried dumplings filled with poppy seeds, apricots or prunes.
Always on the lookout for a reason to party we held our Ukrainian Christmas Party last night here at the Molly household. Hardly a meatless meal ,however, and definitely no ghosts showed up. No room to set them a place.
So let me try this to say Merry Christmas to any Ukrainian readers. The greetings vary,
"Z Rizdvom Khrystovym"- Merry Christmas
"Chrystos rodyvsya"- Christ is born
"Christos rozhdayetsya" - Old Slavonic form for Christ is born
Well anyways, Happy Ukrainian Christmas from Mollymew.

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