EDMONTON -- Joana Janis started cooking 10 days ago to prepare the traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve supper she shared with family and a friend Sunday night.

In keeping with Ukrainian custom, the 86-year-old great-grandmother served 12 different dishes to her guests, including perogies, borsch (beet soup), holubtsi (cabbage rolls) and kutia, the main dish of boiled wheat flavoured with honey, poppyseeds and nuts. Dessert included pampushky, a type of fried doughnut with a fruit centre.

As usual, Janis made everything herself.

"Now it`s easy because you can freeze things," she laughed. "I remember the days when we lived on the farm in Saskatchewan. We got up in the morning and prepared it all in one day."

With seven of her loved ones gathered around the table, Janis opened the meal with the traditional Christmas greeting, Krystos Razhdayetsia (Christ is born) as she raised a spoonful of kutia.

"The origin of kutia goes back more than 5,000 years, when the people in Ukraine were farmers who cultivated grain," Janis said. "It also represents family unity."

Three braided rings of bread called kolach sat one on top of the other in the centre of the table with a lit candle in the middle. The three rings represent the Holy Trinity.

"The table is covered with an embroidered tablecloth, and a wisp of hay or dried grass is put under the cloth to remind us of the humble birth of Christ in the manger," Janis said.

Also in keeping with Ukrainian custom, Janis hangs a small didukh in the corner. It is a sheaf of wheat stalks that symbolizes all her family`s ancestors.

Celebrations steeped in tradition continued late into the night as Janis`s family sang Christmas carols and attended a special midnight church service.

Ukrainian Christmas Day is normally quieter for Janis, who attends a morning church service, relaxes and visits with friends.

In Alberta, one out of every 10 people is of Ukrainian heritage, noted Daria Luciw, president of the Alberta provincial council of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

For Ukrainians who follow the Julian calendar, Sunday`s Christmas Eve celebration is centred around being with loved ones, she said.

"It`s one of these times where we are with family and we do recognize the good fortune that we have," said Luciw, who shared a traditional meal with about 20 relatives. "We have a magnificent lifestyle in Alberta and in Canada and we show our gratitude for that. It`s about being thankful.

"One of the very ancient traditions is to light a candle and leave the candle in your window -- and this goes back to the villages of Ukraine -- so if there was someone who had nowhere to go for Christmas Eve dinner, they knew that they were welcome in that home."

Luciw noted that, while today tends to be labelled "Ukrainian Christmas," other groups who follow the Julian calendar also celebrate Christmas Day on Jan. 7, including some Greek, Russian, Syrian, Serbian and Bulgarian churches.


By Andrea Sands, The Edmonton Journal