The Jereniuk family’s preparations for Sviata Vecherya began more than one month ago.
That’s the Ukrainian term for the Orthodox Christmas feast of 12 meatless dishes Paul Jereniuk and Kelsey Jereniuk will serve the more than 35 people invited to their north Edmonton home on Sunday.
It’s been more than 70 years since Paul Jereniuk’s grandparents immigrated to Canada from Ukraine via holding camps in Germany, and the family is working hard to keep traditions alive.
“That’s why it’s so beautiful to be Canadian, because we’re encouraged to practice our traditions,” said Bo Jereniuk, Paul’s father, on Saturday.
Nearly two weeks after people who follow the Gregorian calendar tore paper off gifts and slathered turkey with cranberry sauce, many Eastern Orthodox Christians will mark Christmas on Monday — Jan. 7 is the date according to the Julian calendar. Celebrating are members of Orthodox churches from Russia, Greece, Ukraine, Cyprus, and more.
Ukrainian Orthodox traditions centre around gathering family together and remembering those no longer with them, the Jereniuks said.
Family and food
Christmas Eve celebrations are a “huge” part of the Ukrainian Orthodox tradition, which sets them apart from other Orthodox Christians, said Bo Jereniuk.
He recalled growing up in the Riverdale neighbourhood and gathering with other kids to spot the first visible star in the night sky — that’s the sign the Christmas Eve feast can begin.
“We got really nervous if it was cloudy,” he said.
They also have a decorative bundle of wheat sheaves, called a didukh, representing their ancestors and living family members joined together for perpetuity.
Wearing embroidered shirts, they will gather for the holy supper — a pot luck that starts with kutya, a type of wheat porridge with honey and poppy seeds. Also on the menu are perogies, cabbage rolls, borscht, mushroom dumplings and three types of fish.
The spread contains no meat or byproducts from the animals who would have been present in the manger with baby Jesus.
The Jereniuk parents and their daughters Ksenya, 14, and Tanissa, 12, and Kelsey Jereniuk’s mother all pitch in to prepare the time-honoured foods.
Since the 12 dishes represent the 12 apostles, Bo Jereniuk hopes everyone tries a little bit of every dish.
Depending on their church’s schedule, some observants will attend a Christmas service after midnight, and some go the next morning. Christmas Day, Monday, is usually spent visiting with family, Paul Jereniuk said.
More traditional in Canada
Perhaps unexpectedly, some Ukrainian Orthodox Christians in Canada practice more classical Christmas traditions than those living in Ukraine, Bo Jereniuk said. While his family has carefully preserved the practices older generations brought to Canada, Ukraine evolved, he said. While oppressed by communism, people may not have felt free to observe so openly, he said.
The Jereniuks, meanwhile, get the best of both Christmases by gathering with other family members who celebrate on Dec. 25.
“It’s more food. Harder to keep the pounds off,” Paul Jereniuk quipped.
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