Thursday, January 7, 2016

Orthodox Christmas

January 7, 2016... my how times have changed.  As known to my Mom's side of the family today is "Ukrainian Christmas," the day after the Christmas Eve feast and evening of carols beginning at dusk.  I have many memories of this celebration.  All stops were pulled for the meatless meal consisting of 12 courses savoured throughout the evening, all of the best recipes were used to celebrate this occasion.  

Today my family is not having pickled herring or "kutia," but I will quietly remember the laughter and the love.  Foremost on my mind of course is family, my grandparents, my Mom.  Mom and Grant are in Florida for the winter again but we did skype for an hour yesterday.  I was thinking about a blog post I wrote a few years ago around this time of year, my Dido (grandfather - Dee-do) had passed away in November and I had memories to share.  

Please bear with my re-posting of an old story, but I find it to be a classic.  And I can update that I have begun teaching the girls to read/write/speak Ukrainian, and I will be making pyrohy (perogies) again soon! Soon friends, I promise to call when I do! ;-) 

A bit about what Ukrainian Christmas means to me  
(originally posted 2009):

A couple of weeks ago my beloved maternal Grandfather passed away. Dido (pronounced Dee-doe) was 91 years old, and, as I remember him, I have a full slate of memories to draw from. Absorbing his death has been difficult, but it is eased by the celebration of his life. He had such a full life, and I am grateful that he gave so much of it to me.

Orphaned at a young age, Dido was raised in part by monks, in Ukraine, given a start in life unlike anyone else I know in present times. He was a kind gentleman, a thoughtful and resourceful soul, and I imagine that was how he had always been... I knew him for 33 years, only a third of his long life, but in that time I never heard him say a bad word about anyone else (even when they deserved it).

He was complicated, simple, outrageously funny, gentle, elegant, peaceful, quiet, noisy, all of these things and more. Part of my childhood was spent in his care, along with my beautiful Grandmother (Baba), who passed away five years ago almost to this day. Baba and Dido were inseparable, they were like salt and pepper, sugar and spice - or oil and water, depending on the day! Truly lovely people, they instilled in me a strong work ethic, a creative and resourceful nature, and a good dose of Catholic guilt. They taught me Ukrainian, and they taught me life.

Dido was remembered by family and friends in Sarnia as a kind and true gentleman, a father, a friend, and a teacher. He worked hard throughout his life, during his incredible journey to Canada in the late 1940's, and even to his last days he pored over books, reading Ukrainian, English, and Polish. What we most remembered was his penchant for teaching... his skill in naturally drawing out the best in people, and for educating others about not only life, but Ukrainian life.

Countless hours he spent with me when I was a child, teaching me Uky reading, writing, culture. I owe my second language and cultural background to my Mom, and my Baba and Dido, but it is Dido I remember as spending the time demonstrating grammar and alphabet lessons. He was gentle but insistent in his teaching, coaxing hours of work out of me without my realizing it, providing me with firm roots in Ukrainian.

I remember occasionally resisting yet another reading or lesson, wanting to go outside to play with the many hand crafted toys Dido made for me, but I kept that under control until it was time. When we were finished there would be plenty of time to go to the parks in St. Thomas, for him to push me on the swings at Pinafore Park or to walk the bridges in Waterworks Park.

Dido didn't force me to work, it was simply an expectation he had. It was clear to me what I was expected to do, and I embraced that responsibility as I was taught. It is fascinating now that I can look back on it and remember. I try to raise my daughters with that same gentle but steadfast expectation, although I'm not sure it always works out that way. We are a different generation of parents now, and I'm not sure we are as skilled as the likes of Dido.

Ukrainian culture in my life plays an ever more important role, as I grow, and my kids grow, I want more Uky influence for us. I want the language to stay in my family, I want the stability, the history, and of course I want the food. I will teach my daughters to make pysanky (Uky decorated eggs) and pyrohy (perogies) as I was taught, and I will teach them to read and write and speak Ukrainian, as Dido desperately encouraged me to do. He was right.

I am also inspired by the work that Dido did, that I am not entirely aware of. I grew up knowing that Baba and Dido were active in the local Ukrainian community and church, and I knew they still tried whenever possible to take care of family still living in Ukraine, but I didn't really know the extent of their activism and support of the old country. I had a feeling they did more, and a quick google search brought up their names in a few places (who knew Baba and Dido would ever make it to google!?) Looking through photos at my Mom's last week I found one that struck me... a photo of my little Uky grandparents participating in a march in Ottawa, 1978.


<---That's my Dido, holding the sign that says "Freedom for Ukraine"

Congratulations Dido, for a life well-lived, I applaud you. Thank you for all that you have done for my family and for so many others... We will always cherish you and your memories, you are alive in us. I love you.

Orthodox Ukrainians around the world celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar (January the 7th). Christmas is the most beloved festival among Ukrainians when the family  gathers for a holy supper of 12 symbolic dishes. The meal is traditionally meatless and milk-free and features fish. The recipes differ from region to region, but here are the most well known dishes which are prepared for Sviat Vechir/Christmas Eve: kutya (a dish of honey, poppy seeds, raisins, chopped walnuts or pecans and boiled wheat); a braided, ring-shaped bread (struslya); fish dishes; dried or pickled mushrooms, red borsch, holubtsi (cabbage rolls) with rice or potato filling, varenyky(perogies) with sauerkraut or potato filling, cooked beans and others.  Smachnoho! :-)


  1. щасливого Різдва

  2. And a poem from my Mom:

    CHRISTMAS EVE - По Нашому (Ukrainian Style)

    Тwas the night before “Різдво” (Christmas)
    And all through the village
    The Українці (Ukrainians) all gathered
    To eat twelve meatless dishes.
    The kolach was nestled
    All snug in its dish
    While kutia was cooking
    And so was some fish.
    Women in their babushkas
    And men in their caps
    Had all settled down
    With food in their laps.
    When out on the lawn
    There arose such a clatter
    We all left our meal
    To see what was the matter.
    And what to our wondering eyes
    should appear
    But a pogach shaped sleigh
    And eight lively reindeer.
    With a white bearded “дзядзьо” (Dido, old man)
    So lively and quick
    We knew in a moment
    It was Good Old Saint Nick
    More rapid than horses
    His reindeer all came
    As he shouted, "Oй Йой," (Oy,Yoy)
    And each reindeer's name.
    "On Stefan, on Taras
    On Myron and Yurik
    On Vasyl, on Andrey
    On Pavlo and Rurik."
    Then out to the smokehouse
    The reindeer all flew
    With a sleigh full of kobasas
    And saintly Mikolay too.
    Down the chimney he came
    With a leap and a bound
    Dancing a kolomiyka
    And twirling around.
    He did a short polka
    Then went to his work
    And took some pyrohy
    Then turned with a jerk.
    We gave him kapusta
    And Yurko's old clothes
    Then we sang “Дивная Новина”(Dyvnaya Novina)
    And back up the chimney he rose.
    But we heard him exclaim
    Everyone now go to the table and “їчти”(eat).
    "Веселих Свят”(Merry Christmas” to all
    And to all “Добраніч!"(Good Night)