Ukrainian Christmas Eve Traditions and Recipes

Editor’s Note: These two posts first appeared on Tara Ciecko’s blog, and she has given me permission to re-publish them to my blog. Thank you Tara!! I hope you enjoy them!!!

Ukrainian Christmas Eve (Part one) – Our Traditions

January 6th

Today is Ukrainian Christmas Eve and brings me fond memories of my Baba and Gigi and gives me lots of reasons to call my mom. January 7 is celebrated on Christmas Day by the Eastern Orthodox Church because they follow the Juilian Calendar in which the 12 days of Christmas began on December 25. Traditionally, January 6 is a day of fasting ending in a meal of 12 meatless dishes beginning as soon as the first star rises in the evening sky.

Our Traditions

My Baba and Gigi both emigrated from the Ukraine in 1913. My mom was born in 1944 and raised with many Ukrainian traditions, and both Baba and Mom passed some of these traditions on to me and my sister. Our Christmas Eve was celebrated on December 24 (as this was easier for both my dad’s work schedule and our school schedules plus was easier to understand as kids) but did include a feast of 12 meatless dishes (no meat, eggs or dairy). My early memories include stockings with an orange in the bottom; straw under the dinner table to signify the manger; candy hidden in the straw for an after-dinner hunt; no lights with the dinner table lit by candlelight only; throwing Kutia (grain and poppy milk) onto the ceiling to see if it sticks (signifying a good year of crops); saying the Our Father before the meal; and a plate with a single slice of bread on the table to remember the loved ones who are no longer with us.

The Traditional Meal

There are variations on the 12 meatless dishes, but our meal always included perogies and cabbage rolls, which everyone associates with Ukrainian meals. Kutia was made for throwing on the ceiling and for eating but was never one of my favorites. Beets could be in the form of borscht to start the meal or pickled, and there were always pickles on the table made with lots of garlic and dill. There were always two or three fish dishes – a breaded cod or other white fish, pan-fried or breaded shrimp and pickled herring plus pan-fried mushrooms, and peas or corn (sometimes both). The dessert I remember was fruit, sugar cookies or shortbread, but my mom also says that Baba always made Kruschiki, which are twisted bows of sweet dough covered in powdered sugar. We always had tea with dessert.

Our Meal

My mom continued the traditional meal on December 24, and it was the first time that our Jeff and my parents celebrated a holiday together. My mom modified the 12 meatless dishes over the years to include Drahli (a.k.a. Studenetz, Kholodets, Head Cheese, all which are really jellied pig’s feet), which my mom and Jeff’s dad were the only two to eat. She also added either Kubasa or Ham or both to accommodate Jeff and his lack of vegetable enjoyment. My mom still cooks this meal for my sister and her family, and we continue to cook it here in Vancouver. We have gone back to the traditional date of January 6 because it allows us to invite close friends to share with us that are busy with their families on December 24.

Our meal today includes pickles and pickled beets (which I made a month ago); kubasa (shipped from Winnipeg); potato and cheddar perogies, sauerkraut perogies and cabbage rolls (made by Jeff and I yesterday), ham, sage and cranberry carrots (my contribution to the traditional meal) and fruit compote for dessert. The only bought item is the wafers that go with the fruit (thanks to Euro Food on Bidwell St.). Not quite 12 dishes and not quite meatless but a damn good attempt at tradition. And what has now become our tradition!

Note: The reference to calling my mom more often is because many of my baba’s and mom’s recipes are not quite exact – a pinch of this, a pail of that, until it is the right texture – are a little hard to follow. How big is a pail? This require lots of long distance conversations with my mom. Thank goodness for free shaw to shaw calling! We have a few laughs, remember some good memories, and I eventually get the recipe right.

Ukrainian Christmas Eve (Part two) – Cooking & Recipes

Ukrainian Cooking takes all day (or two)

A Ukrainian feast takes a while to cook. Two days for us! I am not sure how my Baba managed to cook it all in one day! In preparation for today we started on Wednesday evening by making the rice for the holubchi (cabbage rolls), mashing the potato/cheddar filling for the perogies, frying the cabbage and sauerkraut for the other perogies, frying bacon and onion to be used as a topper and making a 48-hour booze fruit compote.

Thursday morning was reserved for work but the afternoon was for cooking. Holubchi first which need to be in the oven for at least 90 minutes and then perogies. My mom’s standard perigee dough recipe makes about 9 dozen so we planned to make three kinds and freeze about half.

In order to document the whole process we decided to use Twitter with Twit Pics and Twit Vids. The idea was started by watching @gutsmctavish24 on Twitter and his “poor man’s food network” cooking show. I asked him about it, and he allowed me to use his hashtag and idea today. Below are the tweets. If you are not on Twitter you will not understand some of the text but if you click on any of the links you can see the photos and the videos with the comments below.

Here also are the recipes for perogie dough and holubchi rice.

The Tweets:

Today I’m borrowing @gutsmctavish24 hashtag#poormansfoodnetwork to document my#cabbagerolls and #perogie making.

Tomorrow is Ukrainian Xmas Eve. Today is#poormansfoodnetwork 1st up cabbage rolls

Deveined & split cabbage leaves. Full reciepe & blog tomorrow. #poormansfoodnetwork – Assembling the cabbage rolls. #poormansfoodnetwork

Done rolling. Cover bottom of roaster and drizzle rolls with tomato juice or soup #pfmn – Trick to get really moist cabbage rolls… #pmfn

Cabbage rolls in oven – 325 for 90 minutes. Then check cabbage. Break for lunch then #perogiemaking next. #pfmn.

Ready for making #perogies. 1st quarter of dough for sauerkraut ones. Go.

Cutting out dough circles using a can (size from pineapple slices) #pmfn

I always cover the finished #perogies till ready to boil so they don’t dry out. #pmfn – Assembling sauerkraut perogies. #pmfn

Potato Cheddar perogies – 5 Lb potatoes to 700grams cheese

Two #perogie batches done. Now onto potato & cheddar w bacon. #pmfn

Boiling perogies – 3 minutes a dozen at a time then drain #pmfn – After boiling toss w butter. Freeze flat then bag or enjoy. #pmfn

Thanks to my helper @CKGolfSolutions and everyone who tweeted.Time to clean up my disastrous kitchen.No photo necessary. #pmfnHappy Xmas! Read Part 1 here!

About Tara Ciecko

Tara Ciecko is co-owner of CK Golf Solutions Ltd with her husband Jeff. CK Golf Solutions provides management and marketing solutions to the golf industry. Over the past two years both Jeff and Tara have become heavily involved in social media and now provide speaker and training sessions to companies large and small both in the golf industry and across other industries. Their website contains both a golf industry blog and a personal blog which details adventures in food, wine, cooking and travel and their life in Vancouver and beyond. Check out her blog and follow her on Twitter.


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