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The Holy Supper: A Christmas Eve Tradition in Ukraine

6. January 2012 by Christy 0 Comments

On Christmas Eve, many Ukrainian families prepare a traditional twelve-dish supper known as Sviata Vecheria, or Holy Supper. This ancient tradition can be traced back to pre-Christian times, though it is now a religious celebration honoring the birth and death of Jesus Christ.


Typically observed on January 6th (Christmas Eve per the Julian calendar followed by the Orthodox Church), the Sviata Vecheria consists of twelve meatless dishes representing the twelve apostles who shared the last meal with Christ. Meat (other than fish), eggs, and milk are not permitted at the traditional meal. Ukrainians instead dine on fish mushrooms, grains, fruits, and vegetables.


Here are a few dishes one might see at a traditional Holy Supper in Ukraine.

 

Kolach – Three large, ring-shaped braided loaves representing the Holy Trinity. This Christmas bread may serve as the central table decoration.

 

Kutia – A sweet grain pudding often served first at the meal. This traditional dish is typically made of wheatberries, poppy seeds, honey, and nuts.

 

Borscht – A traditional beet-based soup.


Uszka – Small dumplings stuffed with mushrooms and minced meat.

 

Fish – A variety of fish, typically herring, carp, or pike.

Varenyky – Traditional Ukrainian dumplings stuffed with cheese, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, cabbage, meat, or fruit.


Holubtsi – Cabbage rolls stuffed with a variety of fillings.


Uzvar – Traditional drink consisting of stewed fruits.


Doughnuts with jam for dessert.

 

Ukrainian households traditionally wait until the first star appears in the evening sky before enjoying the twelve-dish feast. Children often serve as look outs, watching for the star that symbolizes the birth of Christ. Once the star has appeared in the sky, families gather for a prayer and then eat the meal by candlelight. The food is typically served on an embroidered tablecloth with hay scattered underneath, a touch that honors Jesus’ manger birth. After the meal, many families will sing carols or spend a quiet evening, enjoying one another’s company.


While many Ukrainian men and women enjoy the traditional twelve-dish Holy Supper, not all Ukrainians observe this tradition. When chatting with a special lady this month, ask how she celebrates the holidays and if she and her family sit down for a traditional Sviata Vecheria. It's a fun and easy way to learn about a Ukrainian woman's country and culture!