Thursday, December 25, 2014

Ukrainian Christmas Traditions (i.e. LOTS OF FOOD)

Merry Christmas!

I haven't been reading lately because - present wrapping, cookie making, food preparation, house cleaning, table setting... So if you want book discussions - come back in a few days.

But I thought you might be interested to hear about my strange Ukrainian Christmas traditions. Warning: this post is mostly about FOOD because Ukies love FOOD and we will give you FOOD at any opportunity. So be prepared.

As Ukrainian Americans, we have definitely adapted some of our customs. Technically, the Christmas Eve feast begins when the first star appears in the night sky. Ours begins at lunchtime, because for dinner we go over to my dad's sister's house for more American festivities. 

(This would be a good time to point out that though both my parents are Ukrainian, my dad's side is larger and means that there are more non-Ukrainians in-laws.)

This is our table setting with special Ukrainian plates. (They were actually made in Kent, England, but hey. Whatever.) The little bowl and saucer right on the border between the two tables is for the dusha, or the souls of all the departed family members. We put a little bit of each food into it.

The first dish is this magical grain/honey/poppyseed/walnut sweet soup-like porridge thing called kutya. It's extraordinarily delicious. It goes in those little inner bowls. There's a Ukie tradition to flick a bit of it up onto the ceiling and see how many bits stick. We don't do this, for logical reasons.


Next is borscht, beet soup. It tastes better than it sounds, and goes in the outer bowls. Sour cream completes the garnish. You can't eat it sloppily, because then your gorgeous white lace tablecloth will be splattered with red. And beet is like blood - it never comes out.
(Side note: if you want a good fake blood stain - use beet juice.)

Ukrainians also like cabbage a lot, and mushrooms. And so we have:
~~Holubtsi, buckwheat pillows wrapped in cabbage leaves, with tomato sauce and ketchup* on top.


*Though not traditional, ketchup has been adopted by Ukrainian Americans as quite a useful condiment. For me, borscht and holubtsi don't taste quite right without ketchup. 

~~Pierogies or Varenykiy, dumplings. You pick the filling: cabbage and mushroom? Potato and mushroom? Potato and cheese? Meat and cheese? Meat and mushroom? What about a desert flavor - cherries? If we cannot find you a varenik flavor you like, then Ukrainian cooking is a lie.
(But you won't find the meat filling on Christmas Eve - nope, for this feast, it's all vegetarian as a reverence to the animals there at Christ's birth.)


~~Kapusta! Or, pickled cabbage. With mushrooms. Sometimes we put kovbasa (sausage) in it, but not on vegetarian Christmas Eve, of course.

There's also tsvitliy, horseradish and beet mush. Wait, that doesn't sound very appetizing. BUT IT IS.


And we can't forget babka, the delicious poofy bread in the middle of the table that holds the candle. We eat it afterwards. (You can see it in the middle of the table in the first picture.) (No, not the gingerbread house.)

I haven't named all of them, but technically there are twelve dishes for the twelve apostles. 

Other than food and eating and traditions-related-to-food, what do Ukrainians do on Christmas Eve?
We sing carols. A lot. The Ukrainian culture is very musical.
We open presents under the tree. But that's just a universal thing, right?
We are extra blessed when we sneeze. I don't know why, but sneezing on Christmas Eve means you'll have a lucky New Year. 

I'm running out of traditions that have nothing to do with food. We like food. And I haven't even gotten to the deserts. 

Hey! you ask. But this is all Christmas Eve! What happens on actual Christmas?

Um. Ukrainians don't do much on the 25th, it all happens on the 24th. We went to church this morning. And now we're hanging around the house doing whatever and eating leftovers. My sister is actually doing homework. (Crazy, I know. WHAT EVEN.) We have been known to take out Thai food on Christmas.

I'm going to go off now to take advantage of the free time and read Once and Future King,  or maybe even work on some novels (FINALLY). I hope all your Christmases were wonderful, if you celebrate, and happy happy holidays!

We'll be back to our scheduled bookish program tomorrow. :-)


Tell me about your Christmas/Holiday traditions! What are some odd things you do that your neighbors do not? 


  1. Thanks for sharing. Merry Christmas to you and your family!
    Amanda Marie

  2. Thanks for sharing! It's so awesome to hear about people's hybrid celebrations, incorporating their own culture. I also didn't know you were Ukrainian, so that's cool to learn about! Your culture has so many interesting dishes. Hope you had a Merry Christmas!

    1. I had a fabulous Christmas. It was full of eating food and playing with tiny children - so, quite wonderful.

  3. All of that looks really good. Pierogies are delicious! I always wanted to try Borscht. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You definitely should try it. It's splendid!

  4. Oh my......all that food. It sounds splendid and now I am hungry. Also I LOVE your family's Ukrainian/English tableware - that green and cream is very elegant.


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