Ukrainian Christmas Traditions

Every year the Revelstoke Museum & Archives marks the Christmas season with reenactments of the traditions from different countries. This year, it was the Ukraine’s turn on Monday (and again on Wednesday, December 22) from 1 pm until 3 pm and below you can find images from Monday’s event. Below the images you can find some recipes for Ukrainian Christmas cookies and a traditional Ukrainian Christmas story. Enjoy!

Every year the Revelstoke Museum & Archives hold an event to celebrate the Christmas tradition of different countries. This year it celebrated Ukrainian traditions, among which is a tradition of creating spider webs that harken to a story (see below) about spider webs and Christmas trees. Local kids loved the story and Jane McNab oversaw their efforts to create pipe-cleaner spider webs. David F. Rooney photo
Jacolyn Daniluck (left) and Sylvia Woods help kids create some special Ukrainian decorations. David F. Rooney photo
Upstairs, kids made and decorated some terrific Ukrainian cookies. You can make them at home, too, using the recipe below. David F. Rooney photo

For the Ukrainian people Christmas is the most important family holiday of the whole year. It is celebrated solemnly, as well as merrily, according to ancient customs that have come down through the ages and are still observed today.

In the Ukrainian tradition, Christmas Eve falls on January 6, with Christmas Day on January 7.  The Christmas Eve Supper or Sviata Vecheria (Holy Supper) brings the family together to partake in special foods and begin the holiday with many customs and traditions. With the appearance of the first star which is believed to be the Star of Bethlehem, the family gathers to begin supper.

A kolach (Christmas bread) is placed in the center of the table. This bread is braided into a ring, and three such rings are placed one on top of the other, with a candle in the center of the top one. The three rings symbolize the Trinity and the circular form represents Eternity. A didukh (meaning grandfather) is a sheaf of wheat stalks. It is placed under the icons (religious pictures) in the house.  The head of the household leads the family in prayer. After the prayer the father extends his best wishes to everyone with the greeting Khrystos Razhdaietsia (Christ is born), and the family sits down to a twelve-course meatless Christmas Eve Supper. There are twelve courses in the Supper, because according to the Christian tradition each course is dedicated to one of Christ’s Apostles.

In the early 1900s, settlers from the Ukraine began to move into the Revelstoke area, with many of them starting farms about 8 miles south of town, at the base of Mount Cartier.  They had their own school, and church and post office.  When the Hugh Keenleyside Dam was built at Castlegar in the 1960s, most of the properties were bought out and the owners moved into Revelstoke or to other places.


Best Ever Sugar Cookies

½ cup butter                                                1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

½ cup shortening                                    3 ½ cups sifted flour

1 cup sugar                                                1 teaspoon soda

3 eggs                                                            2 teaspoons cream of tartar

Cream butter, shortening and sugar thoroughly.  Add eggs and beat well.  Add vanilla.  Add sifted dry ingredients, using enough flour to make a soft creamy dough that can be flattened in hands and maintain its shape.  Chill dough, wrapped in foil or plastic for at least 2 hours.

Roll out on lightly floured board with floured rolling pin and cut into shapes.  Place on greased cookie sheets.  Bake at 350 for 8 to 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and cool on cake racks.  Decorate with frosting if desired.

Sprinkle with granulated sugar before baking, if desired.  Change flavor by adding lemon extract or grated lemon rind.

These are the cookies we are serving today.

If you like, you can try these traditional Ukrainian cookie recipes:

Ukrainian Christmas Honey Cookies.

These Ukrainian Christmas cookies can be cut into rounds, stars or crescents.  Often they are hung on the lower branches of the Christmas tree as treats for the younger children.

4 cups flour                                                2 extra large eggs

1 teaspoon cinnamon                                    1 cup honey

½ teaspoon cloves                                    2 tablespoons chopped orange peel

½ teaspoon ginger                                    1 egg beaten with a little water for glaze

½ teaspoon nutmeg                                    20 blanched almonds (without skin) (optional)

1 cup confectioners sugar                        Coarse sugar crystals or decorating frosting

2 teaspoons baking powder

Sift together flour, spices, confectioners sugar, and baking powder.  Add eggs, honey and orange peel;  mix to make a stiff dough.  On a floured work surface, roll out dough about ¼ inch thick.  Cut shapes with a cookie cutter, place on non-stick sheet and brush with glaze. If not decorating with icing, a ½ almond may be placed in the middle of each cookie, then sprinkle with coarse sugar.  Bake in 350 degree F oven until done, about 12 minutes.  Cool on racks.  Decorate with frosting if desired.

Ukrainian Sugar Cookies

2 cups sugar                                                1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 cup butter                                                ½ teaspoon salt

2 egg yolks                                                ¾ teaspoon nutmeg or vanilla

1 whole egg                                                3 to 4 cups flour

1 cup sour cream

Cream sugar and shortening.  Add beaten eggs, egg yolks, and sour cream.  Add sifted dry ingredients using only enough flour so dough can be easily handled.  Roll and cut into desired shapes; sprinkle with sugar  (or leave plain to decorate with frosting) and bake at 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes or until golden.


A folk legend from the Ukraine

Once upon a time, long ago, a gentle mother was busily cleaning the house for the most wonderful day of the year…. The day on which the Christ child came to bless the house. Not a speck of dust was left. Even the spiders had been banished from their cozy corner in the ceiling to avoid the housewife’s busy cleaning. They finally fled to the farthest corner of the attic.

T’was the Christmas eve at last! The tree was decorated and waiting for the children to see it. But the poor spiders were frantic, for they could not see the tree, nor be present for the Christ child’s visit. But the oldest and wisest spider suggested that perhaps they could peep through the crack in the door to see him. Silently they crept out of their attic, down the stairs, and across the floor to wait in the crack in the threshold. Suddenly, the door opened a wee bit and quickly the spiders scurried into the room. They must see the tree closely, since their eyes weren’t accustomed to the brightness of the room… so the crept all over the tree, up and down, over every branch and twig and saw every one of the pretty things. At last they satisfied themselves completely of the Christmas tree beauty.

But alas!! Everywhere they went they had left their webs, and when the little Christ child came to bless the house he was dismayed. He loved the little spiders, for they were God’s creatures too, but he knew the mother, who had trimmed the tree for the little children, wouldn’t feel the same, so He touched the webs and they all turned to sparkling, shimmering, silver and gold!

Ever since that time, we have hung tinsel on our christmas trees, and according to the legend, it has been a custom to include a spider among the decorations on the tree.

This is just one of many versions of this story.