A Traditional Ukrainian Christmas

As the Christmas season rolls around, I find my taste buds craving the flavors of the traditional Ukrainian Christmas feast. These unique traditions have been passed down for generation and generations from babka to babka since pre-Christian times. Today, the tradition of Ukrainian Christmas continues to thrive. If you know Ukrainian, Polish and Eastern European families that are anything like mine, you can appreciate the prevalence of traditions adopted by spouses and family members from different cultures.

ukrainian christmasIn my family, we celebrate the traditional Ukrainian Christmas on Christmas Eve instead of January 6th, which is the beginning of Christmas according to the Julian calendar used by the Green Orthodox Church. In the old world, the Christmas feast or sviata vecheria consists of 12 meatless dishes symbolizing the months of the year and the twelve apostles. Observant Ukrainians exclude eggs, dairy and meat from the 12 traditional dishes while including fish to symbolize the ichthus or Christ. Being non-traditionalists, we also bring out kielbasa, smoked ham and other modern additions to please everyone at the table.

If you aren’t hungry already, fried pierogis filled with potatoes, sauerkraut, mushrooms or sweet fillings are an essential item on the traditional Ukrainian Christmas table along with rice-filled cabbage rolls known as holubtsi and several soups. Using seasonal ingredients, the Ukrainian Christmas meal includes several soups, such as cabbage, mushroom, borscht and pea soup made from whole dried peas. A potato salad with vegetables is also an essential dish. However, my family prefers to substitute homemade coleslaw. Kolach bread is another must-have whether it’s a savory version to complement the meal or a sweetened pastry to top off a delicious dessert.

For dessert, the whole family can enjoy jelly-filled doughnuts with lots of powdered sugar along with fruit compote or stewed prunes, which complements the kutia, a sweetened pudding made from barley, wheatberries or rice that is flavored with honey, nuts, poppy seeds or raisins. Whether this is your first Ukrainian Christmas or a rekindling of old memories, it’s an honor to be a part of this special tradition and to share it with new generations.

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