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Ukrainian Christmas Eve Recipes - Sviaty Vechir

What Ukrainians Eat on Christmas Eve

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Dobryj vechir, Sviaty vechir. Dobrym liudiam na zdorovja. -- "Good evening, Holy evening. To good people for good health."

Ukrainians are primarily Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian calendar. As such, they celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on Jan. 6 and 7, two weeks behind the Gregorian calendar. Ukrainian Christmas Eve is the last meatless meal of Advent as it is in Russia, Poland and other Slavic countries. In Ukraine, this Holy Supper is known as Sviaty Vechir.

While the women of the household are busy preparing the multicourse meal (sometimes as many as 12 to 13 courses, representing the apostles and Christ) that varies from family to family and region to region, the children are assigned the task of decorating the Christmas tree and searching the night sky for the first star. When the star is sighted, it is a signal that the meal can begin. Throughout the day only light snacking is allowed, so the family eagerly awaits the meal. The table is set with the best linens and china, and a sheaf of wheat tied with a ribbon (Didukh), along with a bread known as kolach. As with other Slavs, an extra place is set for departed family members and / or the Christ Child. Before one morsel is eaten, prayers are recited and either the kolach or prosfora (blessed bread) is broken and dipped in honey (and sometimes grated garlic) and shared with each member of the family, from eldest to youngest, with wishes for good health and prosperity in the coming year. This is similar to the Polish custom of breaking the wafer or oplatki.

After dinner, carols are sung and poems are recited by the children. Some presents are exchanged but most are left to be opened on Christmas Day. Everyone attends a midnight church service with the smallest children taking a gift to present at the manger for the needy children of the congregation. In the old days, gifts were not given on Christmas except for candy and other sweets. St. Nicholas Day was the primary gift-giving occasion. Read more about Ukrainian Christmas here.

Kutya

Cooked Wheat Pudding
© Barbara Rolek licensed to About.com, Inc.
Kutya is also known as kutia, koljivo, colivă, koliva, sochivo, and more depending on which country you happen to be in. This first-course Christmas Eve pudding of sorts is typically made with wheatberries that are sweetened with honey and sometimes augmented with poppy seeds, dried fruits and nuts. The kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity and, in some families, a spoonful of kutya is thrown up to the ceiling. If it sticks, a plentiful honey harvest can be expected.

Soup

Ukrainian Beet Borscht
© Barbara Rolek licensed to About.com, Inc.
Meatless soups like dried mushroom or sauerkraut (kapusniak) are popular as is beet borshch on the Ukrainian Holy Supper table. Often, the soup is served with mushroom-filled vushka dumplings, which means "little ears" and are identical to Polish uszka.

Pickled Foods

Herring Rollmops
© vvvanessa on Flickr
Pickled white fish or herring, their silver color and scales all portending good luck and coins, are a must for Ukrainian Christmas Eve dinner. But other pickled items like pickled mushrooms and other vegetables and salads appear in great variety.

Fish

Fried Lake Perch
© Barbara Rolek licensed to About.com, Inc.
Freshwater fish, usually white fish, carp, lake perch, trout or pike, is always part of the dinner. It is served whole or filleted, breaded and fried, poached, baked, stewed or glazed with aspic, depending on family preferences, and often several varieties appear on the table -- one fried and one prepared another way.

Beans / Legumes / Vegetables

Split Peas and Cabbage
© Barbara Rolek licensed to About.com, Inc.
Cooked beans or cabbage with dried peas are popular. This latter dish is also popular at Polish Christmas Eve suppers and is known as Kapusta z Grochem. Beans, legumes and cabbage or sauerkraut all figure prominently because they signify wealth and prosperity in the coming year.

Cereals / Grains / Dumplings

Stuffed Cabbage
© Flickr by Dinner Diary
Cereals and grains show up as the filling for holubtsi or cabbage rolls. Another interesting vegetarian spin on this dish is bread-stuffed beet leaf rolls. Meatless varenyky, pyrohy and other dumplings abound. And a special treat is savory pampushky, which can also be made in a sweet variety with yeast dough (see Desserts, below).

Breads - Kolach / Bobal'ki

Ukrainian Christmas Bread or Kolach
© Barbara Rolek licensed to About.com, Inc.
Some families eat kolach, a braided bread served with a clove of fresh garlic and honey. Some Ukrainian families have bobal'ki with either honey and poppy seeds or browned with sauerkraut.

Compote and Other Desserts

Grandma's Polish Paczki
© Barbara Rolek licensed to About.com, Inc.
Dessert on Christmas Eve in the strictest Ukrainian Orthodox households is just dried fruits and nuts or a fruit compote known as uzvar, which is virtually identical to Polish Kompot and Russian vzvar. This sweet concoction made of dried fruits, like apples, pears, sour cherries, prunes, currants, raspberries, gooseberries and raisins, is mixed with honey and sometimes spices and boiled in water. It's half drink, half stewed fruit. Some families serve more elaborate desserts like pompushky, which are fried dougnuts filled with poppy seed, apricot or prune filling, much like Polish paczki.

Beverages

Ukrainian Peperivka
© Chrysophylax on Flickr
For some Orthodox Ukrainians, the only beverages allowed on Christmas Eve are nonalcoholic like kvas, a sweet-and-sour sparkling beverage brewed from yeast, sugar and dried rye bread, or tea or juice. But others toast with vodka or peperivka.
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