April 20th, 2018

Ukrainian Christmas traditions honoured at Hat home

By Medicine Hat News on January 11, 2018.

Medicine Hat News

This Saturday is the Orthodox Christian New Year, but last Saturday the Cherwonogrodzky family of Medicine Hat celebrated Ukrainian Christmas.

Relatives and friends came to partake in the special day. Outside were the usual Christmas lights and ornaments, but at the top of the stairs was an axe to ward off evil, a candle to welcome the traveller, a sheaf of wheat for prosperity in 2018, and a picture of Chervonograd Castle in western Ukraine (The Cherwonogrodzky roots go back to the 9th century). Once inside, the head of the household, John, blessed the foreheads of the guests with honey.

Before supper, the youngest child went outside searching for either the first or brightest star.She found one and reported back inside. John then brought the sheaf of wheat inside, then tossed “kutya” (cooked wheat, honey, poppy seed) at the ceiling. It stuck, so everyone was blessed with prosperity and health. He then gave out vodka shots and those following tradition all shouted together “Na Zdorovya” (for health).

This year the tradition of children searching for spiderwebs (symbolic of wealth in the New Year) was forgone. John said grace and blessings, then it was time for supper. At the centre table there was Kolach bread (from the local Ukrainian store) with a lit beeswax candle, and 12 meatless foods to represent the 12 disciples (kutya, borscht, salmon, St. Peter’s/tilapia fish, cooked buckwheat, holubtsi/cabbage rolls, perohe/perogies, bean-tomato salad, deviled eggs, dark mushrooms, poppy bread, compote). The family was also blessed with many guests bringing in their own specialty dishes, salads and desserts.

During the meal, the Kolach bread was divided, sprinkled with honey, and shared with all. A CD of traditional Ukrainian Christmas songs (Yevshan Inc.) was played and all recognized “Shchedryk” (Carol of the Bells; https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=0UmvUy1LziE). All were blessed to hear a guest who volunteered to sing some Ukraniansongs.

Each year celebrations have differed. In past years, there were skits (Baba Yaga kidnapping the children, evicting Father Winter) and fairy tales recited (The Blue Rose, Koschei the Deathless, Vasilisa and the Skull of Light). This year, all relaxed and talked about family, family characters and histories, politics, and Canada’s multi-culturalism. That last point is important. It is what makes Canada, what makes us different than many other countries. Ukrainian culture is just one of the many that we honour now. We all become a little stronger when each of us gets stronger.

Merry Christmas, English and Ukrainian, and now “Schaslevoho Novoho Roky” (Happy New Year).

Submitted by John Cherwonogrodzky

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