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Christmas Challenge for Transcarpathian Children

Continuing our overview on Christmas traditions we couldn’t skip the multicultural Transcarpathian region of Ukraine, as minding its connection with history of Hungary, our curiosity was overwhelming us. Hard to believe, but some hundred years ago Christmas would be celebrated in no different way from the one in Hungary. Time flies fast, so do spread the new traditions and habits. 

This article puts a spotlight on the traditional Christmas menu, festive customs and activities kept by the residents of Transcarpathia. For the most of our readers timing of this article may not seem as logical, as it is said: “The spoon is dear when the lunch time is near”, however when talking about the Orthodox Christmas,  spoon given on the 6th of January is just in time.

photo: Polina Avramenko

When? Where? And How?

Few days after the last Christmas trees had been purchased, loaded in cars and already decorated at home by Hungarian families, foreign fresh green beauties just start to appear on sale throughout Transcarpathia and Ukraine in general. See it as a great business opportunity for those spruces already being cut but left behind or call it to be a second chance for those which had already served for Catholic celebrations and are ready for a possible reuse, but this is the difference a border between two countries depicts.

Spotted! The majority of families around Ukraine celebrate Christmas on 7th of January due to the usage of the old “Julian” calendar by the Orthodox Church.

Christmas celebration starts with the Holy supper (“Sviata Vecherya”) which is held on the 6 of January and serves as a joyful treatment after a rather long Nativity fast (period of abstinence practice). When houses are already cleaned, all the meals prepared, candles are lighten up and the whole family has already gathered around the festive table – hunting for stars on a dark sky canvas begins. “We will be counting stars” sang by the OneRepublic pops up as an association in here. It is believed that all those delicious and pampering meals served on the table can only be eaten when the first star appears in the sky, which makes people (especially the hungry ones) start going outside since the very early afternoon in order to speed up the process.

Among TWELVE meals served for the Holy supper (being a compulsory number representing Jesus’s 12 disciples and taken very seriously by all the grannies around the country), “Kutya” is that very special and unique dish, dining on this very special occasion would begin with. Those readers who speak Hungarian, will most probably understand our intention on skipping the literal (and, of course, a wrong) translation of this very traditional meal, so let us focus on the ingredients of the dish instead.

Bowl with kutia – traditional Christmas sweet meal in Ukraine, Belarus and Poland, on wooden table, on bright background

Kutia or Kutya is a cereal, sweat wheat berry pudding with a perfect balance of fruits, nuts and poppy seeds. Its recipe requires an overnight preparation, so usually it is the most trustworthy member of the family who is chosen to be responsible for it. An exciting fact is that there are so many variations of Kutya  and those are different from region to region and house to house, that you never get bored of tasting it even if it is the tenth household visited serves it on their Christmas table.

photos: Polina Avramenko

After the Supper, comes the time for singing carols, family chat around the table or watching the old good “ Home alone” time together. The question of when the presents are to be given is naturally following the described events. When celebrating it in an Orthodox way, it is the New Year’s Eve which is dedicated for the awaited gifts to be brought by Ded Moroz (“Grandpa Frost”) and his grand-daughter Snegurochka. Taking into consideration, that a big percentage of Transcarpathian families are rather mixed, where father may be Catholic, while the mother is Orthodox, and the other way around, it is always a challenge to state on something when talking about the religious holiday and their ways of celebration. As a result, local children by using their creativity and treaky minds happen to ask presents for both: Christmas and New Years Eve, not talking about both existing dates for St. Nicholas (6th and 19th of December).

The custom of caroling is merry and joyful and comes from pre-Christian times. Two groups of carols are differentiated in Ukraine: the “kOliAdky” – those carols sung on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and “sHcheDriVky” – repertoire of the Feast of the Epiphany. Visiting Ukraine during Christmas week guarantees its visitors to bump into teams of dressed as characters carolers roaming around households and hometowns. Using an opportunity, we may add few words about the Carol of Bells – an iconic world-famous Christmas song. Originally, it is a Ukrainian folksong the lyrics came from and the “Shchedryk” which became the basis for the carol. Music written by Ukrainian composer M. Leontovych and lyrics by Peter J. Wilhousky in 1914. After the lyrics were copyrighted, the music has been the public domain ever since.

Let Christmas encore begin!” – enthusiastically said a child coming from Budapest when visiting his grandparents living in Mukachevo.

by Polina Avramenko