Growing up on the prairies during war and depression was challenging. But Christmas was always a wonderful celebration in our home.
We decorated the tree with popcorn strings and paper streamers – the whole atmosphere in our tiny home was remarkably joyful.
Our most important tradition, being Ukrainian, was our Christmas Eve dinner when mom would serve a 12-course meatless meal. One course for each of Christ’s apostles and the absence of meat to mark Mary and Joseph’s difficult journey on the eve of Christ’s birth. As my father explained – they had to really struggle so we were meant to experience a sacrifice – a lesson in gratitude was the theme of this holy evening for us.
The table looked so beautiful to me, set with a linen tablecloth and candles. Dad would buy special port wine and we would all have a small bit to toast with.
The first course was called Cutiah, a Ukrainian dish of wheat that was gently boiled all day and then combined with honey and ground poppy seed. We would each be served a small portion of Cutiah, and then before we ate, my father would say a blessing. Then he would take a spoonful of the Cutiah and toss it up to the ceiling. According to a family superstition, he could tell if the coming year would be a prosperous one, depending on how much wheat stuck to the ceiling.
We had borscht, fish, perogies, meatless cabbage rolls, cottage cheese, handpicked dried mushrooms, and several other dishes that varied from year to year.
Gifts we received were mainly nuts and oranges – though one year my brother received a wee little wooden truck and he spent hours and hours playing with, and my sister and I each received a doll from the Sears catalog… I thought I would die I loved that baby so much!
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