ukrainian christmas: 3 posts

Ukranian Petrykivka Ornaments : Holiday Gifts

A few years ago I made a memorable journey to Petrykivka in Ukraine. Located near the city of Dnipro in the eastern-central part of the country, the town is famous for its folk painting style, Petrykivsky painting or “petrykivka.” It depicts flowers, leaves, and birds in a variety of baroque forms. The colors are vivid, with red, blue, yellow, and green hues being most traditional. Everywhere I went in the town, I saw bright designs covering walls, fences and street signs, but petrykivka is also used for paintings and decorating everyday objects.

Petrykivka painting has been included in the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, and many artists operate studios in town. Before the war their situation was already precarious, as it is for many artists, but these days it is even more so. Nevertheless, despite the electricity blackouts and other tragic realities of war, they continue to work and produce beautiful artworks.

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An Evening of Bounty

If you’ve ever sung or listened to “Carol of the Bells”, you’ve indirectly partaken in one of the oldest Ukrainian traditions of shchedrivky. The old style New Year’s Eve on January 13th is called Shchedriy Vechir, which means Bountiful or Generous Evening, and part of the celebration includes young women and men visiting their neighbors and singing shchedrivky, couplets wishing good fortune, health and much of bounty in the new year. The most famous song associated with Shchedriy Vechir is “Schedryk” (Щедрик), which was arranged by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1916 and later adapted by Peter Wilhousky as an English Christmas carol, “Carol of the Bells”.

ukrainian christmas

Old traditions are closely intertwined with the customs. Shchedriy Vechir also has the alternative name of Malanka in honor of Saint Melania the Younger whose feast is celebrated on the same day. But the old, pre-Christian customs color the festivities.

Different from carols, which are performed starting on Christmas Eve on January 6th and until the Epiphany on January 19th (the Ukrainian Orthodox calendar still follows the one established by Julius Cesar), shchedrivky focuses on the bounty of nature. The original Ukrainian lyrics for “Carol of the Bells,” for instance, tell the story of a swallow visiting a household and describing all of the rich gifts the family is to see in the spring.

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Uzvar : Ukrainian Spiced Fruit Compote

On January 6th my house smells like dried apricots and honey. It’s the Orthodox Christmas Eve, which in Ukrainian is called Svyata Vecherya, the Holy Supper, and two dishes central to it are kutya and uzvar. I have written about kutya already, but uzvar deserves special mention, because this spiced fruit compote is not only delicious, it has a heady perfume.

uzvar1

Uzvar is not only paired with kutya for the Ukrainian Christmas and Easter, it’s a favorite winter dessert in my family. It’s simple, healthy and can be varied based on what’s available in the cupboard. I can still picture my great-grandfather, Sergiy, laying out sliced apricots to dry on the roof of the garden shed and smoking plums over cherry wood. “For uzvar in the winter,” he would say, while turning the dark, jammy fruit.

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