Dobryj vechir, Sviaty vechir. Dobrym liudiam na zdorovja.
-- "Good evening, Holy evening. To good people for good health."
Ukrainians are primarily Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian calendar. As such, they celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on Jan. 6 and 7, two weeks behind the Gregorian calendar. Ukrainian Christmas Eve is the last meatless meal of Advent as it is in Russia, Poland, and other Slavic countries. In Ukraine, this Holy Supper is known as Sviaty Vechir.
While the women of the household are busy preparing the multicourse meal (sometimes as many as 12 to 13 courses, representing the apostles and Christ) that varies from family to family and region to region, the children are assigned the task of decorating the Christmas tree and searching the night sky for the first star. When the star is sighted, it is a signal that the meal can begin.
Throughout the day only light snacking is allowed, so the family eagerly awaits the meal. The table is set with the best linens and china, and a sheaf of wheat tied with a ribbon (Didukh), along with a bread known as kolach. As with other Slavs, an extra place is set for departed family members and/or the Christ Child.
Before one morsel is eaten, prayers are recited and either the kolach or prosfora (blessed bread) is broken and dipped in honey (and sometimes grated garlic) and shared with each member of the family, from eldest to youngest, with wishes for good health and prosperity in the coming year. This is similar to the Polish custom of breaking Communion-like wafers or oplatki.
After dinner, carols are sung and poems are recited by the children. Some presents are exchanged but most are left to be opened on Christmas Day. Everyone attends a midnight church service with the smallest children taking a gift to present at the manger for the needy children of the congregation. In the old days, gifts were not given on Christmas except for candy and other sweets. St. Nicholas Day was the primary gift-giving occasion.
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Kutya also is known as kutia, koljivo, colivă, koliva, sochivo, and more depending on which country you happen to be in. This first-course Christmas Eve pudding of sorts is typically made with wheat berries that are sweetened with honey and sometimes augmented with poppy seeds, dried fruits, and nuts.
As in Russian families, the kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity and, in some families, a spoonful of kutya is thrown up to the ceiling. If it sticks, a plentiful honey harvest can be expected.
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Cooked beans or cabbage with dried peas are popular. This latter dish is also popular at Polish Christmas Eve suppers and is known as Kapusta z Grochem. Beans, legumes, and cabbage or sauerkraut all figure prominently because they signify wealth and prosperity in the coming year.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
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Cereals and grains show up as the filling for holubtsi or cabbage rolls. Another interesting vegetarian spin on this dish is bread-stuffed beet leaf rolls. Meatless varenyky, pyrohy and other dumplings abound. And a special treat is savory pampushky, which can be made savory or in a sweet variety with yeast dough (see Desserts, below).
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Dessert on Christmas Eve in the strictest Ukrainian Orthodox households is just dried fruits and nuts or a fruit compote known as uzvar, which is virtually identical to Polish Kompot and Russian vzvar.
This sweet concoction, made of dried fruits, like apples, pears, sour cherries, prunes, currants, raspberries, gooseberries, and raisins, is mixed with honey and sometimes spices and boiled in water. It's half drink, half stewed fruit.
Some families serve more elaborate desserts like pampushky, which are fried doughnuts filled with poppy seed, apricot or prune filling, much like Polish pączki.
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