We started out this series with instructions on how to prepare for Christmas Eve, as since the day is tomorrow. here are the traditions Ukrainians have connected to the Holy Supper!
The first person to sit at the Christmas table was the head of the family, followed, by seniority, by other family members. Everyone tried to make sure they cleared their seat of any spirit that might be sitting there, because it was believed that all relatives – living and deceased always gathered in the same house on Christmas Eve. During the Holy Supper no one but the hostess was supposed to leave the table. Everyone was supposed to be serious, talk quiet and behave.
On Christmas Eve people didn’t go visiting others or lend/borrow things. Everyone t stayed with family, and even travelers always tried to get back home for the holidays.
Beginning the Holy Supper, the eldest man in the house took a spoonful of kutia and said a prayer for the deceased ancestors, inviting them to dinner. For them, and for any family members absent at the dinner table two sets of plates and glasses, that noone was allowed to use, were set at the table. Then, raising a glass, the master of the house invited the rest of the family to join him in a prayer and then the supper began.
It was considered a good omen when homeless or poor people visited the house on Christmas Eve. The hosts would generously treat such guests.
Traditionally one would find at least 12 meatless dishes on the Christmas table. After dinner, which lasted several (3-4) hours, kutia and some other dishes were not cleared from the table, left for the spirits to feast on. They were also provided with a glass of water and a clean towel on the table.
After dinner, people began singing carols that ever since the pre-Christian times were dedicated to the creation of the world, the God of the sun, productivity and good harvest. Then people performed certain fortunetelling rituals, and finally they would give gifts to the children, parents, visitors and to each other, in the form of money and treats, as a symbol of future prosperity and wealth.
After the Holy Supper it waqs not customary to go to sleep, especially for the hosts, who would only lay down to get some rest, without changing out of their clothes to make sure they didn’t fall asleep. Candle light would be seen in windows of every house as people believed putting out the holy flames was a nad sign, so they just had to burn out on their own.
Early morning, before sunrise, ‘vinshuval’nyky’ – well wishers would start going from house to house. These were always only boys, as people believed you would only get good luck if the first to visit your house was a male. There’s thus no wonder that everyone was thrilled to have such visitors and always generously gifted them with candy, apples, nuts and other treats.
January 7 people celebrated the 1st day of of Christmas (it was customary to celebrate through January 9). In the morning the whole family or a few representatives went to church for a festive mass, which was devoted to the birth of Jesus Christ. Returning from church people gladly greeted each other saying:
- Христос народився! - Славіте його! (Christ is born! Let’s glory him!)
Ant then the festivities continued! People enjoyed feasts, invited friends and family and visited friends and family. They would gather for zabavas and went caroling and enjoyed the special atmosphere of the Christmas holidays.