Amid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, there’s one thing my husband and I don’t have to worry about… we both get to see our families, even though they live in separate states, during Christmas. How can we do this? Do we have the secret to time travel on Dec. 25? Nope. We travel to New Jersey to visit the in-laws in December. Then we get to celebrate with my family in January.
I am Ukrainian Orthodox. Although I have been lax over the last few years about attending church (and bringing along my triplets who I can’t get to sit still for a minute), I continue to observe and celebrate Ukrainian Christmas. It keeps me connected to my heritage and to my relatives. I uphold the tradition to honor my father who passed away in 1999 – and he really knew how to celebrate!
And so while the rest of the world is already into a new year, my family and I will gather to enjoy Ukrainian Christmas in January.
Since my children are just 4 years old, and are still trying to grasp the meaning OF Christmas, I have yet to explain to them the difference which all boils down to scheduling. Ukrainian Orthodox Christians follow the Julian calendar devised by Julius Caesar. According to the old calendar Christmas Eve and Christmas Day occurred on Jan. 6 and 7. In 1582 the Gregorian, or Western calendar, was adopted under the direction of Pope Gregory XIII. This calendar moved the big birthday celebration to Dec. 25.
Eventually I envision doing what my parents did with us. When we were little until about second or maybe third grade, we got a few gifts on the 25th, or American Christmas as my dad called it, and some on the 6th. Eventually American Christmas was just another day, and we focused more on celebrating in January.
And it was quite the celebration. My mom and dad went all out. This was our holiday. This was my dad’s time to shine in the kitchen and boy was he such a great cook. Our extended family was invited – close to 40 people crammed into a split-level ranch, plus various friends and neighbors over the years.
Traditionally on Christmas Eve 12 dishes representing the apostles were served and they were all meatless. The table was adorned with hay, signifying the manger. The meal would begin only after the children spotted the first star in the night sky (but it was often snowing heavily in Utica, N.Y. so stars were hard to come by).
Verenyky (Pierogi/dumplings), different types of fish, kutya, halubshi, kapusta (cabbage soup) all served…and enjoyed again the next day.
Today we do a shortened version of the traditional foods. We get together to make the pierogi, someone else makes the kapusta, my mom continues to make the halubshi while she still can… and ultimately she can enjoy it all while surrounded by her children and her grandchildren.
It’s not strange, or odd, but something I’m just used to. Those who know my family know full well that we celebrate in January. Those who don’t know us well often say things like, “Oh, so you get two Christmases” and “At least you don’t have to fight about whose house you’re going to for the holiday.”
Well, sure, the latter is true, but we obviously don’t have two Christmases. I like to think of it as an extended Christmas period…
But no matter what date it is, the reason for the season still holds true, whether we get together in December or January. Our wish is for peace on earth, good will toward men, and family time for all.
Now if there was just a solution to getting everyone ready by then…
Or, in Ukrainian, “Khristos rodyvsya! (Christ is born!) Slavite Yoho! (Glorify him!).
Alexia, a proud and stubborn Ukrainian-American who grew up outside of Utica, N.Y., now calls Canastota, N.Y home, which her mom thinks is too far away. She and her New Jersey-born husband, Rob, have their hands full raising their 4-year-old triplets, Gretchen, Theodore and Olena, who are making great strides since being born at 28 weeks. Although she is currently “blog-less” feel free to follow Alexia’s adventures on twitter at A13xiaH or look her up on Facebook. Oh and, by the way, Ukrainian or Eastern Orthodox Easter sometimes falls on a different date too.