Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
Christmas is a very special celebration for Ukrainians. Many traditions and rituals are observed, and each aspect of Christmas has a special meaning. Everyone is wearing their best clothes and the house has been cleaned top to bottom for the day, although all spider webs are left untouched. Legends about the generosity of spiders at Christmas mean they are not to be disturbed. What else is going on in the house?
Icons and Didukh
Didukh is the Ukrainian name for the wheat sheaf brought into the house on Christmas Eve. It is home for spirits of the ancestors for the season and is made of the very best wheat of the harvest.
Icons are a centerpiece of traditional Ukrainian homes and are usually decorated with rushnyky (embroidered or woven ritual towels). Nativity icons have special significance since they represent beliefs surrounding the birth of Jesus.
Sviatyi Vechir (Holy Supper)
There are many dishes on the table. Usually twelve meatless dishes are served during the Christmas Eve Supper or Sviatyi Vechir (Holy Supper). The food vary from region to region and from family to family, the most common include: kutia (wheat and poppy seed dish), borshch (beet soup), varenyky (perogies), kolachi (braided bread). The dishes are all meatless due to the belief that a Lenten meal cleanses the soul in preparation to welcome the Christ child into ones heart and home.
There are two tablecloths on the table. The plain bottom one is for the visiting spirits of the dead, while the top one is where the family eats. The blessing of straw is placed between the tablecloths and on the floor under the table to represent the manger. Sometimes candy and coins are hidden in the straw for the children to find after the meal. Gifts are received weeks earlier on St. Nicholas Day.
The entire meal is prepared that day on a large oven, or pich; none of the food is prepared in advance.
The First Star
When the first star appears in the sky, like it did that first Holy Night when Christ was born, the Holy Eve. Once it is seen, the meal may start, but not a moment sooner! Supper begins with the lighting of a candle.
Caroling is a very important tradition in Ukraine. It is usually done between Christmas and Malanka (New Year’s Eve in accordance with the Julian calendar). Koliadky are sung for Christmas and shchedrivky were sung around Malanka. The lead caroler carries a star, which is elaborately decorated for the occasion. If you listen closely, you may be able to hear a choir singing right now!
Meditation by Very Rev. Dr. David Petras
Christmas is a feast of unity. It is, first and foremost, unity between God and humanity. The Word of God takes the human nature so that the image and likeness of God in us might be restored. Walls are broken, and the first sticheron, the first words, of Christmas are, “Come, let us rejoice in the Lord; let us proclaim the present mystery by which the partition has been broken and the flaming sword withheld.” What God does vertically, he expects us to do horizontally, and so at his birth the poor (the shepherds) and the rich (the Magi) are called to adore. His own people (the shepherds, the Jews) and the outsiders (the Magi, the Gentiles) are called together. Just as God becomes one with us, we become one with God, and with each other, and the last words of Jesus to his disciples before his arrest are a prayer for the people, “the glory which you gave me I have given them, that they may be one just as we are one: I in them, and you in me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that you have sent me, and have loved them as you have loved me. (John 17:22-23)” The result of this will be peace on earth, as proclaimed by the angels in heaven and foretold by the prophet Isaiah, “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall graze, together their young shall lie down; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the viper’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. They shall not harm or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9, the Fourth Reading of the Vespers of Christmas)” This unity is needed in a world shaken by conflict, by hatred of the other, by racism. It is sad that Christians cannot be united among themselves.
Cardinal Koch, on his visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate on November 30, 2015, said, “The world today has great need of reconciliation, particularly in light of so much blood which has been shed in recent terrorist attacks. May we accompany the victims with our prayers, and renew our commitment to lasting peace by promoting dialogue between religious traditions, for “indifference and mutual ignorance can only lead to mistrust and unfortunately even conflict” (Common Declaration, Jerusalem 2014).”