meal begins once the children of the family sight
the first star in the evening sky,
recalling the journey of the wise men towards Bethlehem.
On farms, the head of the family customarily carries
a sheaf of wheat called a didukh into the house, representing
the family's ancestors, and places it under the household
icons. (Outside, in the barn, animals are traditionally
given an extra ration, honouring their role in the
first Christmas.) In modern urban celebrations of the
Christmas Eve meal, the sheaf may be replaced by a
few wheat stalks decorating the table. The meal begins
with a prayer and the traditional Christmas greeting "Khrystos
rodyvsya!" (Christ is born), to which all respond "Slavite
yoho!" (Let us praise him.)
Twelve dishes are served, representing the twelve
apostles. Wheat shows its importance once again, for
it is the main component of the special first course,
called kutia, boiled kernels sweetened with honey and
flavoured with poppy seeds or nuts. All members of
the family must partake of a little kutia, which symbolizes
prosperity for the coming year. An old superstition
holds that if some of the wheat sticks to the ceiling
when a spoonful of kutia is thrown into the air, the
new year will be a prosperous one. These days, your
hosts might prefer that this particular tradition be
Next comes soup: in this case, borshch, the famous
beet soup, which for this Christmas Eve meal is made
without meat or meat stock. Besides beets, the borshch
may contain onions, carrots, cabbage and potatoes.
The central part of the meal is centered around fish
and vegetable dishes. Fish is served baked or fried,
in aspic, or pickled (perhaps whitefish or herring).
An integral part of any Ukrainian meal is pyrohy or
varenyky, dough dumplings filled with potato and onion,
or perhaps sauerkraut or even fruit. Then there are
usually two varieties of holubtsi, cabbage rolls: one
stuffed with a savoury rice filling, the other with
There is an assortment of other vegetable side dishes:
white beans mashed with onions and garlic; kapusta,
or sauerkraut with onions; salads or perhaps marinated
beets or mushrooms.
Towards the end of the meal, a compote of dried fruits
is brought out. It may include prunes, apricots, apples
and figs that have been soaked overnight and cooked
For dessert, there is an assortment of pampushky,
little deep-fried pastries containing various fillings
such as poppy seed or dried fruit.
This sacred and festive meal goes on for a long time.
For the Ukrainian family it not only brings together
decades of memories and reminiscences of beloved family
members, but is also a link to centuries of proud tradition.
Those gathered around the table are reluctant to get
up once the meal has ended and so the family members
and guests prolong the celebrations late into the night
with the singing of Christmas carols.