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Ukrainian Christmas in the 1920s
Ukrainians who emigrated to Alberta in the 1890s and early 1900s followed a different calendar, the Julian calendar. So, Ukrainians began their Christmas season with Holy Evening, on January 26th, which honoured the birth of Christ.
According to Radomir Bilash of Alberta Historic Site Services, many of the rituals intertwined agrarian references with the religious.
For example, they shunned the Christmas tree, which many Ukrainians associated with the Hungarian aristocracy that ruled their homeland. Instead, they displayed a sheaf of wheat.
The sheaf of wheat was brought in at the commencement of the meal on Holy Evening, on Sevet Latcer, and it was placed in the corner of the room, in a place of honour, say, for example, under the icons, that often have a very special place on a certain wall in the house. And it is left there throughout the Christmas season.
Sometimes on the floor, but definitely under the tablecloth, hay would be placed, to remind everyone that they are celebrating the birth, which occurred in a manger.
If there were children in the house, nuts, fruits and candies would be hidden in the hay.
What would happen is that the householder, or the woman of the household, would take these treats and throw them under the table into the hay. And, of course they would get lost in amongst the hay and the children would have jump under the table, on their haunches, and make clucking sounds, like chickens, looking for their treats, and then peck them out and pull them out of the hay.
In subsequent days, the hay may be fed to animals on the farm, or it might also be spread on the ground in the shape of a cross and burned.
And, as historian Radomir Bilash notes, another custom of the Holy Evening included the singing of a very long carol, "God Eternal."
This was often sung at the commencement of the meal, after the householder brought the sheaf of wheat into the house, everybody would stand at the table, say a prayer, [and] at the conclusion of the prayer, the householder would then reach over and light a candle, which was often inserted into the festive bread that was baked for the occasion.
He would proclaim to everyone in the household that Christ was born. And they, as is the tradition, would answer.
Then the family would sit down to a special meal of twelve dishes, all without meat, which commemorated the twelve apostles of Christ.
On the Heritage Trail,
I'm Cheryl Croucher.