Ukrainian Christmas Customs and Cuisine

Christmas comes but twice a year, so does Easter, mostly. (Myroslaw Lomatski)

Important Dates:

Saint Nicholas - December 19th - gifts for good girls and boys.

Christmas Eve (Holy Night) - January 6th

Malanka - New Year's Eve - January 13th

Feast of Jordan / Epiphany - January 19th

Ukrainian Independence Day - August 24th

Canadian Troops burn White House and other US Goverment Buildings - August 24th, 1814

First Ukrainians enter Manitoba as mercenary troops in Lord Selkirk's hired Swiss de Meuron Regiment - 1817

Ukrainian Christmas

Christmas is a unique and festive holiday among Ukrainians. The season starts with a short and severe Lent. On December 19th, presents are distributed to children by St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children. This custom continues to this day in many Ukrainian communities.

Ukrainians cherish Christmas Eve in a special way. The celebration is centred around the traditional Christmas Eve Holy Supper which begins when the first star appears in the eastern sky. It is the children's job to look for the first star.

The floor is covered with straw and upon the table is placed clean, fresh hay. This is to recall the birth of Christ, born in the stable and laid in the manager. A white or embroidered table cloth is spread over the table. In the corner under the Icons, a sheaf of grain (diduh) is placed as a sign of a good harvest. The supper consists of a variety of twelve dishes as a symbol that Christ has twelve apostles. Meat and dairy products are not permitted.

An axe is placed outside the door to ward off evil spirits. A special loaf of bread called a Kolach is placed on the table, with a lighted beeswax candle placed in its centre. This is to remind the family of the Star of Bethlehem. The Kolach is braided from 3 pieces of dough to signify the Holy Trinity.

The departed of the family are remembered on this day by the placing of an extra table setting. The extra placing is also there as a reminder that a passing stranger is welcome.

Burning incense is also placed on the table. It signifies the gift of the Magi.

All stand by their places at the table while the oldest member of the family begins the prayers. All sing a carol, then sit down to eat. Before the family begins to eat, the father takes a spoon of Kutia (wheat grain mixture) and throws it to the ceiling. If the grain stays up, the family will have a good and prosperous year. (This custom is usually skipped in modern times!) Then the toast is held. For this, a bottle of horiwka (vodka) is chilled in a snowbank. If you do not live on the Canadian prairies (where the temperature is the requisite -30 Celsius), you can put the vodka in the freezer, along with small shot glasses. The cold vodka is served in the chilled glasses. The head of the household then extends his best wishes and greetings with "Khrystos Rodyvsya" (Christ is born). The reply is "SlavimYeho" (Praise him). The vodka is then downed in one gulp. There is no other way to do this for most of us.

During the supper it is the custom for the carollers to enter the home and wish the family happiness and blessings of the Infant Child by singing carols (Koliady). The Carollers carry a little grotto in which are the manger, the shepherds and the new-born infant Jesus placed under a star. The star is mounted upon a rod. A lighted candle is placed inside the star. The star reminds the people of the star that shone over the stable where Christ was born. The carollers represent the angels and the shepherds.

After supper the family spends a pleasant evening carolling and preparing for Midnight Mass.

On January 19th the Holy Season of Christmas is still very sacred. For on this day the Feast of Jordan / Epiphany is celebrated. This holiday symbolizes the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan. Ukrainians gather in the front of the church where a cross of ice is placed. Since there are no rivers near churches, a tub is filled with water and is placed in front of the ice cross. During special and very unique services the water is blessed and brought home by the faithful. This is taken in before breakfast is eaten. The remains are kept during the year to keep the home safe from fire, lightening and sickness. The priest visits his parishioners to bless their homes with the Holy Water to keep them safe and keep the evil spirits away. The evening meal is very much a repeat of the Holy Supper except that there are no restrictions on meat and dairy products. It starts with Kutia, which has been saved from Christmas Eve, (caution ! if you are going to do this, the wheat and the honey-poppy mixture should be saved in separate jars and refridgerated!) And, the season is over until next year.

Yalynka - the Christmas Tree

The Yalynka or Christmas Tree is decorated in pretty much the same manner as in most countries. Decorations can be made of wood, straw or dough which is decorated, glazed and baked. One variation is the Children's Tree. Quite often a small tree (under 1 metre) is cut and set up for the children. The children then make decorations during the season, adding them to the tree. Candy canes and other treats for the children are put on the tree by the parents. Advent sweets or chocolates are also wrapped and numbered and put on the tree for each of the children. It is also a custom to add decorations that have been given as presents to the family to this tree for the current year. An added bonus is that this is a source of Christmas decorations for the kids to take with them when they go away to university or move out on their own. (Myroslaw Lomatski)

Ukrainian Christmas Eve Dinner

It is the custom that twelve various dishes are served to remind us of the 12 Apostles. No meat products and in some areas no dairy products are permitted.


Ritual Foods
Kutia - boiled wheat kernels mixed in honey and poppy seeds
Kolach - ritual bread, usually eaten after midnight liturgy/mass
Knysh - another bread
Appetizers & Pickles
Pickled Herring
Dill Pickles
Pickled Mushrooms
Pickled Beets
Meatless Borscht

Fish in One or More Forms:
Fried, Baked, Broiled or Stuffed Fish
Fish in Aspic
Fish Balls
Varenyky and Pyrohy with Various Fillings:
Potato, Sauerkraut, Fruit (Prune, etc.)
Meatless Holubtschi with Rice or Buckwheat Filling
Pidpenky (Mushrooms in Gravy)
Sauerkraut with Peas
Fasoli (Mashed Beans)
Beans in Mushroom Sauce
Beets, baked, broiled, in piquant sauce or with mushrooms
Compote of Stewed Dried Fruit
Pyrohy with Prune or Poppy Seed Filling
Baked Items (Served after Midnight Mass)
Pampushky, plain, with poppy seed or fruit filling
Makivnyk (Poppy Seed Roll)
Horichkovnyk (Nut Roll)
Perishky (Various Fillings)
Medvinyk (Honey Cake)
Honey and Sugar Cookies
Fruit or Nut Filled Pastries

Religious Holidays

To find the dates of religious holidays on both the Orthodox and Uniate (Greek Rite Catholic) calendars, please go to the site: by Marcos J. Montes.

Traditions, Trivia and Sillia

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Velykyi Den' - Great Day - Ukrainian Easter - a brief outline of Ukrainian Easter celebrations.

All About Easter

The Pysanka is the traditional Ukrainian Easter Egg. Discover the meanings and traditions in this ancient tradition

Ukrainian Community and Family Histories- this website provides links to sources for names of pioneers, primarily in Western Canada.

Velykyi Tyzhden' - Ukrainian Easter Week

Ukrainian Genealogy Group - National Capital Region

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