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The Meal at Ukrainian Christmas
Ukrainian Christmas celebrations are rich in the customs the early settlers brought from the Old Country to their new farming communities in east-central Alberta.
A main component of the Holy Evening celebration is the meal. It is without meat, and the twelve dishes honour the twelve apostles of Christ. According to historian Radomir Bilash, the meal comes at the end of a fast, which begins on St. Phillips day on November 28th.
And the harshest form of the fast, or the most extreme form of the fast, is actually the 6th, when people try not to eat anything prior to the evening meal.
Other than that the fast also includes no festivities; everything is denial. All forms of celebration are denied them, so that this particular day would be the most special day, a combination of being without for so many weeks.
The menu includes warm wheat, and a variety of other dishes, including mushrooms and fish.
However, when you get several families together of different Ukrainian origins and different immigration eras comparing their Christmas meals, they suddenly discover that it's not a standard, textbook approach to a meal. You don't pull out a list and automatically know what that means. Some people have certain styles and certain exotic fillings to their patohay, which are never prepared for any other day of the year except for the Holy Evening, which might even include things like dates and prunes and raisins, and people who are used to their usual cheese and potato fillings sometimes are taken aback, and even wonder are these really Ukrainian patohay.
The Ukrainian settlers honoured the dead at the Holy Evening meal. An extra place was set at the table for those departed from the family, or any other spirits that might be roaming the earth at this special time.
At the conclusion of the meal, the food would either be removed, except for the place-setting, or the food would be left in place and cleared off only the next morning, because who knows which spirits might be still coming during the night.
A candle is lit at the beginning of the meal, to signify the birth in its light form, and that candle is never extinguished. It is allowed to burn out, even into the nighttime, and that, again, is placed by the place setting for the departed souls.
The Holy evening would end quietly. Then the next day, January 7th, was a day to set aside the farm chores and visit with friends.
On the Heritage Trail,
I'm Cheryl Croucher.