Just when many in the United States are done celebrating Christmas, folks in the Ukraine are just getting started. The Julian calendar used by Orthodox Ukrainians is 13 days behind our Gregorian calendar. That is why their Christmas is just beginning on January 6th-Christmas Eve.
In 988 A.D., Christianity was introduced in the Ukraine. The people were very loyal to their ancient pagan rituals of celebrating Winter Solstice and Feasts of Fertility. The traditions of these feasts were incorporated into the Christmas tradition.
Facts about the Ukrainian Christmas or Reesdvoh
Christmas festivities in the Ukraine begin on Christmas Eve, January 6th, with a sacred supper for the entire family. Three rings of braided Christmas Bread or kolach is placed in the center of the table, God's Bread, called kutia, is the most important food, made from wheat, poppy seeds and honey. The family eats of the kutia while drinking God's Drink uzvar, which is made of 12 stewed fruits. The patriarch of the household offers prayer for the family at the onset of the communion. Then it's time for the Christmas Eve meal.
The Ukrainian Christmas Eve Super meal consists of 12 courses. Each course represents one of the 12 Apostles of Christ as well as each full moon during the year. The supper has no red meat, just fish. It starts with 1)kutia, the main dish of the whole supper, 2)borshch, which is a beet soup, 3)vushka, boiled dumplings filled with chopped mushrooms and onions. The vushka is followed by a variety of fish, 4)baked fish, 5)boiled fish, 6)fried fish, 7)cold fish in aspic (like a gelatin), 8)fishballs, and 9)marinated herring. This is followed by 10)boiled dumplings filled with cabbage, potatoes, buckwheat grains, or prunes, called varenyky. There are also 11)holubtsi or stuffed cabbage, and lastly 12)more uzvar.
The Ukrainian Christmas includes caroling. Ukrainian children travel from house to house through their neighborhoods. They ask permission before serenading every member in the household, including babies. At least one is dressed in costume; the goat. The bag carrier uses his bag to carry gifts. The goat is the main character in a skit the children put on in each house.
Since the 17th Century, students of the Aiyvan Academy have traveled from town to town to present VERTEP, the Ukrainian Puppet Theater during the Christmas celebration. The play consits of both serious and humorous acts in which the legendary Kozak is the folk hero.
The Ukrainian Christmas includes the Chrstmas tree, along with a legend about a family too poor to have a tree. The mother took some fruit and nuts and placed them in the tree outside her home. That evening, the spiders weaved webs all over the tree which turned to silver and gold when hit by light. This was known as the spider web legend.
If you were expecting Santa or as he is known in Europe as Saint Nicholas, during the Ukrainian Christmas you would have missed him. The celebration of St. Nick took place three weeks earlier. The Feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated on December 19th on the Julian calendar. The Patron Saint of Gifts is celebrated with gift giving, fun for young children and also sleigh rides.