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Ukrainian Christmas,
Epiphany: Blessing the Water

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January 19th marks the end of the Christmas season for Ukrainians who follow the Julian calendar.

The 19th is Epiphany, and, in the early days of the Ukrainian settlement of Alberta, this was time to bless water. As historian Radomir Bilash explains, the Epiphany commemorated the baptism of Christ.

Since most villages were built alongside a river - a source of natural water - people would gather at the nearest river, and cut out a hole, and, usually with what they cut out of the hole, they would fashion out of ice blocks an ice-cross, and even an ice-altar, on the banks of the river.
And that is where the water blessing service would take place - almost as if observing Christ being baptized in the river by St. John the Baptist.

After the water was blessed by the priest, everyone would drink a bit. The early settlers believed the blessed water had mystical powers, and they would gather the rest in whatever containers they had and take it home.

And this water was intended to take care of other things that might arise throughout the year that - who knows - might be helped by a little bit, by a sip of, by a sprinkle of, by making the sign of the cross with, holy water.

The parish priest was then required to travel from farm to farm, blessing each house.

Sometimes this would take him weeks to manage to visit all of his parishioners, all of the households that were responsible to him, especially if he had five or six parishes. So the life of a priest was quite limited at that time, in terms of what he spent his time doing from morning 'til night, was blessing homes. This was very important, if the priests might have to pass you by through some difficulty, and you didn't have your house blessed, a definite loss was felt; something was missing.

With the passing of the Epiphany and the Christmas season, everyone's thoughts soon turned to spring and the promise of a bountiful harvest.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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