A Ukrainian Christmas is a special event beginning with a delicious Christmas Eve Supper (Sviata Vecheria). The festive meal, also called Holy Supper, focuses on preparing traditional recipes and celebrating ancient Ukrainian customs. On Christmas Eve, Ukrainians celebrate their ancestors, families and the presence of God. Holy Supper begins when the first star, regarded as though it is the original Star of Bethlehem mentioned in the Bible, appears in the sky.
Two tablecloths cover the table. One tablecloth represents the family’s ancestors, and the second tablecloth represents the current family members. In ancient times, people thought that ancestors were benevolent spirits residing in a spiritual world. People believed that these spirits brought them good luck. A little bit of hay is spread beneath the two tablecloths to symbolize the birth of Jesus Christ in a humble manger. One additional setting exists for the family’s ancestors because it is believed that their souls visit on Christmas Eve and eat the special Ukranian meal.
The center of the table features a Christmas bread called “kolach.” Similar to a Jewish challah bread, a kolach features braids. Each braided ring sits on top of another braided ring. A candle is placed in the middle of the top braided ring. The kolach’s three braided rings represent the Christian Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). The circle stands for Eternity. A sheaf made from wheat stalks, called a “didukh,” is placed beneath the various Christian icons. Each stalk of grain represents an ancestor’s spirit.
Next, the father puts a bowl of boiled wheat blended with honey and poppy seeds, known as “kutia,” next to the didukh. The presence of Kutia plays a significant role because it is called “God’s Food.” Each person then dips a piece of the Ukranian kolach in honey. A priest has already blessed the Christmas bread. God’s Drink (“uzvar”) is a beverage made from stewed fruits. Uzvar is served with the meal.
The father says a prayer. He then greets each person with the words “Christ is born” (“Khrystos Razhdaietsia”). Everyone is excited at the thought of eating the special twelve-course meatless Holy Supper. Singing Ukrainian Christmas carols and Ukranian folk songs plays another important role in the anticipated Christmas Eve celebration.