Christmas is celebrated many ways all over the world. Today we’re going to teach you how it’s celebrated in the Ukraine – one of the countries from which we get the inspiration for our traditional recipes.
For centuries, Christmas has been an important religious, cultural and social time in Ukraine. Careful planning and preparation would occur days, and even weeks beforehand. Even with people’s busy schedules nowadays, Christmas is still considered an important time for friends and families to come together.
Christmas eve, commonly referred to as ‘Holy Evening’, is a particularly important celebration where a large meal is prepared and enjoyed. It’s often accompanied by various rituals and traditions, such as the attendance of religious services. Devout observers also fast the entire day prior to the church service, and so the Holy Evening meal is their first meal of the day.
The Holy Evening feast is most often prepared with 12 meatless dishes, in an homage to the Nativity. No meats, eggs or dairy are consumed. Only fish, grains and mushrooms are allowed. There would also be a strict order that would be observed regarding the serving of these dishes. In modern times, however, many families have adapted these traditions to fit their own, new traditions.
The 12 Dishes Served for a Traditional Ukrainian Holiday Feast
Kutia (also sometimes spelled ‘kutya’) is a traditional sweet, cereal-based dish served in Ukraine, Poland, Belarus and Russia. It’s considered one of the most important Holy Evening dishes, since traditionally, serving this dish meant honoring the dead. The main components of kutia also include berries, poppy seeds and honey.
For many countries, bread has always been the main staple in many homes. As the consummate symbol of harvest and therefore of life, families would pay special attention to the baking of Holy Evening bread, often devoting an entire separate day to its preparation. Folk symbols representing various aspects of day-to-day life would also be baked into this special bread. These most commonly include garlic, peas, small coins and other trinkets.
Salads with Vinaigrette
Before modern refrigeration, pickling was a very popular method of preserving food. Holy Evening feasts traditionally feature preserved foods and salads with vinaigrettes, such as boiled beets, potatoes, beans, carrots, pickles and sauerkraut. These dishes would sometimes include onion or green onion.
Uzvar (Stewed Dried Fruit)
Uzvar is another common dish served at Holy Evening feasts. Uzvar is a dried fruit compote that can be served hot or cold. In the past, people believed that dried fruits like apples, pears and wild berries contained solar energy and consuming them in this dish would provide them with energy and protect against illness.
Along with sauerkraut, borscht is perhaps one of the most well-known dishes to come from eastern Europe. This savory soup gets its crimson red colour from beets, its principal ingredient. Many families have their own unique recipes, and common ingredients also include cabbage, carrots, parsley and beans. It’s no surprise that with such a cultural significance, borscht is one of the 12 staple dishes of Holy Evening celebrations.
Due to their long shelf-life, pickles were a staple in every Eastern European kitchen prior to modern refrigeration. Due to their wonderful taste, they’ve stuck around ever since. Common pickles served during Christmas time include sauerkraut (pickled cabbage), beets and dill pickles.
If you were ever curious about the mythology surrounding Cabbage Patch Kids, the folklore likely originated in Eastern Europe. Cabbage leaves have traditionally represented fertility and birth, with many folk tales involving children being “found” in cabbage fields. Cabbage rolls are perennially a favorite staple of Christmas celebrations.
Fish represent the bounty of the sea. This combined with religious considerations is one of the main reasons why fish is the main source of protein during Christmas feasts. Fish dishes can be fried, baked or even jellied depending on each family’s individual traditions.
Perogies represent a bountiful harvest and fertility, and are common staples in many Eastern European festivities, so it’s no surprise that they would take a prominent place in Christmas feasts. Perogies could be sweet or savoury, but do not traditionally contain meat.
(Pro-Tip: Make your holiday meal easy by serving our nutritious, delicious traditional-style perogies that are ready in under 10 minutes. Click here for our vegetarian perogies, or here for our dessert style perogies.)
Cabbage with Peas
Cabbage and peas is a hearty soup or stew dish that’s often served during Holy Evening meals, due to it being very nutritious and very filling. It’s the perfect dish that sticks to your ribs on a cold winter’s day.
Kapustnyak (Sauerkraut Soup)
Kapustnyak is an earthy, slightly tangy soup that’s popular during Christmastime celebrations. Each family has its own variation, including mushroom broth or pork broth variations, but vegetarian Kapustnyak is most common for Holy Evening meals.
Is there any way to end a winter feast than sweet baked apples served piping hot? In addition to their biblical significance, apples represent life in fertility in many countries in Europe and across the world. More modern versions also include spices like cinnamon and cloves.
What is Your Favorite Dish? Let Us Know!
Which of these dishes are your favourite? Do you have any traditional stories from your childhood? We love to hear them! Tweet at us or post on our Facebook page.