Christmas and Sylvester in the Ukraine
It’s the most wonderful time of the year from North America to Europe and beyond :). Here in Ukraine, we begin celebrating the season by bringing a spruce tree into our home and decorating it in time for Sylvester, much like American Christmas, but celebrated on January 6th. We also put together a nativity scene showing the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, an angel and the three wise men.
Traditional Christmas in Ukraine
We invite over our families for a huge feast, called Sviaty Vechir, with twelve different foods, sometimes more, to represent each of Jesus’ apostles or as a memory to our deceased relatives. The table is decorated with sheaves of wheat and oats to show our hope for prosperity for the coming year. Although we don’t use meat or milk products for our Christmas Eve feast, we start with a seasonal soup and move to dishes with lots of tasty mushrooms, fish and bread. My favorite part of dinner is dessert of poppy seed pastries and poppy milk. My sister, Alena, loves the deep fried dumplings and eats them with carp.
After dinner, we sing Christmas carols as a family, and sometimes join with our church or a charity group to go caroling for the poor. Soon thereafter, we wait for St. Nicholas, or Svyatyi Mykolai, as we call him in the Ukraine, to bring gifts to all of the good children. We also watch for the first start to the east to rise and remember the long trek of the magi to visit baby Jesus in the manger.
Before St. Nicholas arrives, we give presents to all of our loved ones, friends and even close acquaintances to show appreciation for the people who matter most to us. We’ll usually spend a lot of time thinking back on all of the wonderful things that have happened over the past year and again, showing appreciation for them.
With full bellies, my family and I will move to the living room and watch all of the holiday specials on television and try to stay awake until midnight. The next morning, the people of our village will dress up as demons and God’s angels to show that good will always overcome evil. I love the traditions of the holidays in the Ukraine, and look forward to it every year.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!