Christmas Traditions in Ukraine

Khrystos Rodevsia

As one of the major Orthodox holidays, Christmas is celebrated from December 6th to the 7th (or December 24th to the 25th in the old tradition). The 12 days following Christmas (through the 19th of January) are midwinter days and are called Christmastime. During these days Orthodox Christians perform a great number of traditional religious ceremonies.

On the 6th of December it is common for individuals to fast until the first star appears in the sky. People say that Jesus Christ was born at that moment.

Preparations for the Christmas Eve meal are similar to those for a gala ceremony. The host spreads fresh hay and places a rich banquet of food upon it. A traditional table will have a roast pig, fried homemade sausage, jellied pigs feet, and blood pudding on it.

Inside pots placed on the table you will find “Kutia,” a special Christmas pudding made with honey, nuts, and plums, and “Uzvar,” a dried fruit compote. Sometimes these pots are covered with traditional bread called “Knish.” You will also find a pot containing “Borsch,” a thick vegetable soup made from a bouillon. It is cooked with potatoes, cabbage, beets, tomatoes, and beans and is served up with traditional bread and thick sour cream. “Vareniki” are prepared by boiling dough blankets filled with cheese, meat, potatoes or fruit.

There are many traditions that are specific to the Christmas Eve meal itself. For example, the number of courses for the Christmas Eve meal is predefined with either 9 or 12 courses. The table is adorned with burning wax candles. A prayer is offered by the host to ward off evil spirits.

While the table is being set and preparations are being made it is customary for the hostess to behave like a clucking chicken. The hostess believes that her clucking will encourage her hens to lay many eggs!

It is customary in Ukrainian homes to place wheat sheaves, rakes, and scythes into the corner of one of the rooms in order to show that they have had a successful farm year. The evening meal is followed by fortune telling. It is believed that if the night before the Christmas is a starry one, the coming year will be bountiful.

Another Christmas Eve tradition is to remember all family members both dead and living. As a sign of remembrance, some food is left on the dinner table for the dead relatives. After the meal, the dishes are left on the table to be cleaned the following day. The children go to visit with relatives and entertain them. Gifts are exchange at this time.

The most interesting ceremony during the days of celebration of Christmas in Ukraine is “Koliadki and Schedrivki” or caroling. It is an old tradition involving walking in the winter air and singing songs. Groups of children and young men come to every house, where they are praised by the hostess, who wishes them health and happiness and them rewards them with treats so as not to become the victim of a trick!

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4 Responses to “Christmas Traditions in Ukraine”

  1. David Monteith-Hodge

    My Polish mother-in-law is visiting us for the holidays and comes from Ukraine originally.
    She cannot remember the name of the bread roll used symbolically at Ukrainian Wigilia celebrations, but seems to remember it begins with the oetter ‘p’.
    Can anybody help?
    David

  2. grhomeboy

    Hello David,

    Wigilia (Christmas Eve) is celebrated for example in Poland with the oplatek (a wafer bread which has been blessed) as well as in other Western European countries including Russia.

    is that the round twisted ‘pretzel’ type rolls bread that you have in mind? May I suggest that you do a google search. Here’s a hint of what I just searched > http://www.google.gr/search?hl=el&q=bread+roll+recipe+Ukrainian+&meta=

    Trust this is of help to you. Happy New Year 2007!

  3. David Monteith-Hodge

    grhomeboy,

    Thanks for that. I did try Google and came up with oddles of information, without hitting paydirt.
    You search brought forth “paska” which Babcia tells me was also used in a slightly different form at Wigilia in her childhood.
    Thanks again,
    David

  4. grhomeboy

    You are welcomed David 🙂

    Best wishes to you and your family and as we say in Greek “Chronia Polla” which means Many Happy Years!