Yes, it’s Christmas Eve today from where I come from. Orthodox Christmas. Though two weeks apart, the two Christmases (Orthodox and Catholic) are not so different after all.
The main difference is in the date. The Orthodox celebrate the Christmas Eve on December 6 following the Julian Calendar, created under Julius Caesar in 45 BC, unlike the Catholics who adopted the Gregorian Calendar proposed by Pope Gregory in 1582.
A most traditional celebration of Christmas begins with a 40 day fast. Meaning 40 meat-free, dairy-free, alcohol-free days. Fish is allowed on weekends together with wine (in moderation!) and oil which are also on Tuesdays and Thursdays. As far as i know, Westerners observe a shorter version of the fast and name it Advent.
On Christmas Eve, after church mass, the family gathers around a white-covered table with 12 (the 12 disciples) traditional dishes. But the meal cannot begin prior to the appearance of the first star in the night sky. Why so? Well, that’s elementary! The star signifies the birth of Christ, of course. Remember, the star that lead the magi to the Christ’s cradle? That’s the one.
Now that all the ceremonies have been properly and diligently observed, it’s time to eat. A Christmas feast begins with KUTYA. It’s a sweet wheat stew with walnuts, poppy milk and honey. Some know it as wheat pudding with poppy seed. Yes, it is quite a peculiar treat, very rich, but worth to try and in no way does it taste disgusting or repulsive.
A variety of pickled veggies come as appetizer and are a must: pickled cabbage, i.e. sauerkraut, pickles, pickled red and green tomatoes and pickled mushrooms, of course. Don’t squint suspiciously – go try some!
Soup is not so popular at a Christmas table nowadays, but traditionally it was either a mushroom soup, a cream pea soup, a meat-free borsch, or a soup with potato and sauerkraut, known as RASSOL’NIK (personally I never liked this last one!).
The main course is traditionally fish. But as people sway away from rules, meat is common. My grandmother would serve roasted lamb for Christmas. What a treat it was!
Vegetables, potato most commonly, and beans are served as a side. Mashed potatoes with fried mushrooms or mashed beans. Or anything else of that sort.
Ukrainians are famous for their mouth-watering dumplings, which are inevitably served for Christmas! We call them VARENIKI and here is where our creativity steps forward. Vareniki can be stuffed with potatoes, fried cabbage, sauteed mushrooms, ground meat or cottage cheese. The sweet variety is filled with fruit, such as pitted cherries, cooked and mashed apples or sweet cottage cheese. And, as you might have already guessed if you read some of my older posts, we dip vareniki into sour cream 🙂
Russian dumplings are called PEL’MENI and are usually stuffed with ground meat or potatoes, though not exclusively. Another variety of dumplings with meat comes from Kazakhstan, Armenia and Georgia, called MANTY, with the stress of the first syllable.
My personal favorite on a Christmas table are PIROZHKI, which are sour dough buns. Fried, as my grandmother’s, or baked as in most homes, pirozhki are buns stuffed with boiled eggs and parsley, or mashed potato and fired onions, or mushrooms, or fried cabbage. Sweet variety is again with cheese or fruit. I hear my stomach demanding one (or three!) the minute I am typing this 🙂
KALACHI (stress the last [i]) – sweet breads sold on every corner – are as traditional and mandatory for Christmas as KUTYA. These are just sweet cakes without any filling or topping, but airy and delicious nonetheless. They vary by form greatly, some are shaped like a loaf of bread, some are rolled and some are moon-shaped, like a large smooth croissant. Though shape does not impact its deliciousness.
The traditional drink is home-made UZVAR, which is a sweet stew of dried fruit: apples, pears, plums, and so on, spiced with cloves and cinnamon. And sweet red wine.
How many of the above will you be able to eat? 😉