Christmas Traditions

Published in the Bukovina Society Newsleter, Vol. 8, No. 4 – December 1998

In 1997, the society presented a reenactment of the Christmas customs of the Bohemian German Catholic and Swabian Lutheran settlers from Bukovina in Kansas. We welcome information on other groups from Bukovina about their religious or holiday customs. Sharon Lewchuk sent an account of the Traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve Supper remembered by her husband Eugene whose family originated in Czernowitz.

Among Ukrainians one beloved festivity is Christmas. Christmas Eve centers around the family. Its main feature is the evening meal called “Holy Supper”. According to custom, all members of the family should return home that night for a family reunion. The home is decorated and rearranged days ahead of time. Where national customs are in practice, a sheaf of wheat “Diduch” is as much a part of the decorations as the Christmas tree “Yalynka” – the Christmas symbol of many nations. The sheaf of wheat is symbolic of the hope that next year’s crop will be bountiful. Farming was the chief livelihood of the Ukraine.

The table is set according to custom. First is strewn a small handful of fine hay, in memory of the Christ Child in a manger, and over it is spread the best embroidered tablecloth. Some people place a sheaf under the table, depicting the manger. With the first star in the eastern sky, members of the family take their places. It is the children’s duty to watch for the star. The father leads the grace with the Lord’s Prayer, and asks blessing for the health of his family. The candle in the centre of the table is lit, depicting the star that appeared at the birth of Christ.

The meal consists of 12 meatless dishes, symbolic of the 12 Apostles of Christ. All food is cooked in either butter or oil. The first of the 12 dishes is called “Kutia”, whole wheat cooked and prepared with ground poppy seeds, honey, walnuts, and apples. Other dishes [among the 121 are Borsch; Fish; Pyrohy with potato, sauerkraut, poppy seed and prune fillings; Holubsti (cabbage rolls); Pampushky; Mediwnyk and Chrustyky are all served. All members partake of at least a portion of each dish served.

After the solemn meal, the family joins in singing Christmas Carols and in merry-making. Soon after midnight, or at early dawn, the family attends a special Christmas service enhanced with beautiful choral music.

During the three holy days carolers, both young and old, visit homes singing carols, exchanging Yuletide greetings and soliciting funds for worthy causes.

Lavrentiy Krupnak recounted in his heritage (Rusnak and Orthodox Christian) they also ate a meatless dinner on the Eve of the Nativity of Jesus Christ. He lists the 12 foods as garlic, honey bread, barley, mushroom or sauerkraut soup, kasha, beans, peas, potatoes, pirohi (potato filling only … no cheese), prunes or cabbage, and fruit compote. After the Holy supper, the family went to church.