Christmas in the badlands brings friends and families together. Traditions are demonstrated in the most intense way of the entire year. Western North Dakota and eastern Montana are resplendent with many cultures. Among them, the Ukrainian culture holds a strong place.
Many important traditions which celebrate Christmas in Ukrainian culture center around food. Kate from the Ukrainian Cultural Institute in Dickinson, North Dakota, provided much information about those customs when she shared the organization’s Winter 2017 newsletter with us.
Christmas terms: ‘Sviaty Vechir’, or Holy Evening is also called ‘Sviata Vecharia’, Holy Dinner. It centers around a twelve course meal, the number of courses dating back to pagan belief and representing each full moon of the year.
Begin the Celebration!
First in this Christmas tradition is a day of fasting, in remembrance of the hardships endured by Mary and Joseph as they travelled to Bethlehem, and to prepare spiritually for the upcoming feast. There are no meat or dairy products used in the food made for the Christmas Eve dinner. Traditionally, hay is placed under the table and on the tablecloth to signify humility. A ring of braided bread, Kolach is in the middle of the table, along with a candle. There is an extra table setting for the souls of the dead.
Twelve Dinner Courses
The meal begins only after the appearance of first star of the evening, the star of Bethlehem on Christmas. Twelve separate dishes, or courses, are traditional:
- Kutia/Kutya – cooked wheat combined with honey, ground poppy seed, and sometimes nuts
- Kolach – bread braided into a ring, or three rings on top of each other, to symbolize the Trinity
- Meatless Borshch – beet soup made without meat or meat stock, for this ocassion
- Stuffed Salmon or Fried Fillets –
- Pickled Herring
- Meatless Holubtsi – cabbage rolls
- Varenyky (Pyrohy) – Potato, Sauerkraut, Prunes – made without bacon fat, butter, or cheese
- Broad Beans or Mashed Beans – to signify prosperity in the coming year
- Pidpenky with Gravy – mushrooms with gravy
- Compote of dried fruits or Medivnyk (Honey Cake) – as a dessert
- Pampushky, Makiwnyk – garlic bread puffs
After the meal, it is traditional to scatter nuts and candies for children to find. Christmas carols are often sung, and there may be a Nativity Mass at midnight to celebrate the birth of Christ.
A Traditional Ukrainian Christmas Recipe
A dish usually eaten only at Christmas in Ukrainian culture is Wheat Salad, which is cooked wheat, poppy seed, honey, and pecans. Thanks to Katie of the Ukrainian Cultural Institute for this recipe:
- 1 1/2 cup cooked wheat (cold)
- 1 – 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese
- 1 small pkg. vanilla pudding mix
- 1 can pineapple, drained
- 12 oz container Cool Whip
Mix well. May add chopped nuts. Chill.
For the Cooked Wheat:
Clean 2 – 3 cups of wheat grain. Wash, soak overnight. Cover with clean water and cook slowly, may use slow cooker. Cook until kernels pop (or are almost ready to pop). May freeze small amount and use as needed.
A special ‘Thank You!’ to Kate at the Ukrainian Cultural Institute for this recipe!
We Want to Hear From You!
What are your family traditions at Christmas, and for other holidays? Recipes to share? We’d love to spread the word! Please, contact us HERE to share your thoughts, your recipes, your favorite cookbooks. Got a great cook we should interview?? Let us know! We’d love to showcase them!
The Ukrainian Cultural Institute is a wonderful resource and wealth of information about Christmas traditions and this foundation culture of western, and parts of central and northeast, North Dakota. It’s located at 1221 West Villard Street in Dickinson, North Dakota. Make sure you check out their website: www.ucitoday.org and their very active Facebook page: Ukranian Cultural Institute ( @uci.dickinson ) Another organization of great interest is the Ukrainian American Community Center: www.uaccmn.org It’s Facebook page, also very active, is: Ukranian American Community Center ( @UACCMN ) All are filled with much Christmas tradition information, especially about food!
Check out a story about our favorite Ukrainian restaurant in western North Dakota, Four Corners Cafe & Catering, Fairfield, North Dakota (right on Highway 85 north of Belfield). They put on a great Christmas spread recently at the Chateau des Mores in Medora! Read about that here: This Ethnic Food Rocked the Chateau in Medora!
Learn about another culturally traditional Christmas food in western North Dakota by clicking here: Lefse. It Rocks!
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