Alex and Anna Gadaiev arrived in Canada on the last plane to leave Ukraine for Canada almost 11 months ago. Their family has started a new life in Morden, Man., and Alex and his daughter Maiia shared their thoughts on their first Julian Calendar Christmas in Canada.
In places like Ukraine, many people still follow the old Julian Calendar for religious holidays, including the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Alex explained there were some adjustments they needed to make.
"We just had Christmas and New Year. It was our first experience in this country, and it was something special and something different. First of all, the dates were moved. We usually used to celebrate it a little bit later, like on January 6, but this time, we celebrated it, as all Catholics do, in December before New Year's Eve."
The family attends the Parish of All Saints of the Ukrainian People at St John's Catholic Church in Morden. The Gadaiev children were part of the Christmas program, and Alex shared what it was like to experience this sacred time in Canada.
"It was nice, but we still remember where we're from, and that's why we joined the Ukrainian community to organize that performance named Vertep, which represents the Christmas event as it was. It was nice event our kids were involved in that, and I believe that they did well. We will keep all our traditions."
Maiia expressed mixed feelings about her first Christmas in Canada.
"We had turkey. It was my first turkey in my life, with potatoes and salad. It's fun, and you have people who you can talk to, they're like family, but your real family, you miss them sometimes. It was a little lonely because usually we have Christmas with our grandmas and all our families."
She really enjoyed being part of the program at the church.
"It was fun. It's not like a play where everyone will know what you're going to say. If you forgot what you should say, you can say something else, and no one will know about it, and like we put on different costumes and it's so fun."
Alex said being away from home at Christmas is not the most pleasant feeling, but considering what is happening back in Ukraine, he is grateful for the safe and welcoming community in Morden.
Parish Council President Kate Tykhonova provided the statement explaining Christmas traditions for Ukrainians.
Every country has its own unique Christmas traditions. What do you know about Ukrainian Christmas? Besides the fact that the majority of Ukrainians celebrate it on January 7th? And by the way, Ukraine is slowly transitioning to celebrating with the whole world, and this year many Ukrainians celebrated Christmas on December 25th, and this day itself has been a civic holiday for the last couple of years.
The center of the Christmas celebration in Ukraine is the Christmas Eve Supper - called Holy Supper. An evening when only a very close family gathers at the table. The dinner is preceded by 40 days of strict fasting when people abstain not only from meat dishes, but also focus on charity, spend more time with family, in spiritual reflection, and prepare their bodies and souls to meet Christ. Traditional Christmas Eve dinner meals should not contain any meat, dairy products, eggs and animal fat. On the table, you can see fish, varenyky with potato or fried sauerkraut, mushroom soup with dumplings ‘vushka’, dried fruit compote called uzvar, stuffed cabbage rolls with no meat 'holubtzi', ‘pampushky’ (donuts) with poppy seeds or cherries, mushroom gravy, boiled peas, sauerkraut. But the main dish is kutya - boiled wheat grain with crushed poppy seeds, walnuts, and raisins. All this is poured with uzvar and some honey. Dinner begins with a prayer by the head of the family. Also, Didukh can be seen at the table. Didukh - made from a sheaf of wheat taken from the first crops. As an agricultural country, Ukraine pays special tribute to wheat.
There is also a custom of sending kids with kutya to relatives, usually grandparents and godparents. After dinner, the kutya is left on the table for the whole night with spoons for the dead ancestors.
After Holy Supper, Ukrainians start carolling. And they carol for about 1.5 months until the Feast of Candlemas. It is a Christian holiday commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple.
Another old Ukrainian Christmas tradition is Vertep - special Christmas Pageant/ Nativity Scene Play. Vertep is an ancient Christmas tradition that came to Ukraine from various sources in the 15th-17th centuries from Poland or Germany. Vertep is a short comedy performance in which biblical scenes from the birth of Christ are acted out. All this is accompanied by carols. Traditionally, in Vertep there are such roles as angels, shepherds, Mary and Joseph, King Herod, soldiers, Death, the Devil, Cossacks (Ukrainian defenders), and Wise Men.
On December 25th, the Ukrainian Catholic parish in Morden hosted its first parish Christmas Vertep. The church could barely accommodate all the parishioners and their guests who get together to celebrate Christmas and welcome carolers with Vertep.
She described the preparations for Morden’s Vertep.
"For almost two months, 17 actors were preparing Vertep. And even more, parishioners joined by preparing costumes, and props, and hosting our large group for rehearsals. The Lord put it on the heart to join the Vertep to those parishioners who had never performed in Vertep before. Our group had carolers from all over Ukraine. Old-comers and newcomers, elders and youth -everyone was united by worshiping baby Jesus."
She went on to share why this year’s program is so meaningful.
"The last year brought many challenges for Ukrainians. No matter where we were - overseas, or under shelling in Ukraine - all Ukrainians felt one common pain, and all of them had one wish on New Year’s Eve - to see a free Ukraine without a war. Therefore, our parish decided to celebrate Christmas with a special patriotic Vertep."
In the traditional Vertep, shepherds meet angels worshiping the birth of a new King to the world. The Wise Men are looking for the manger where Jesus was born, and go to greet him with gifts. Herod tries to stop them and sends soldiers to kill all newborns under the age of 2. But Herod meets Death who takes him to hell. This year, the newborn baby Jesus in our nativity scene brought peace and freedom to Ukraine. Herod, who represents the evil King who expropriates other countries, is sent to hell by Death/Ukraine.
This special, unplanned Christmas on a new Canadian land was first for a lot of newcomers in our area. Morden’s church Vertep was one of the ways to welcome newcomers, to express our common wish to see free Ukraine without a war.
This is one of the popular carols we sang in Vertep called "Nebo I Zemlja" (heaven and earth).
Ukrainian community wish peace and happiness to people all around the world and in our communities in the New 2023 Year, for all those who struggle, who grieve some loss, who defends, who support and welcome, and for those who are looking for peace on this Earth. Heaven and earth, heaven and earth, Today are relating. Angels and mankind, angels and mankind Join in celebrating. Christ the Lord is born, Come and behold Him. Christ the King they’re greeting, Shepherds celebrating, “Wonder, wonder” They’re proclaiming
On behalf of the Parish Council, Tykhonova would like to invite people to attend the second Ukrainian Christmas Service on January 7th at 2 Academy Drive, Morden, starting at 1 p.m.
The service will be followed by Vertep and Christmas Potluck at 3 p.m.