I can’t imagine trying to describe everything about Ukrainian Christmas Eve in one post because Svyata Vechera is the most important dinner of the year, steeped in rituals. It’s HUGE.
When I was growing up, Christmas Eve was celebrated on January 6, and we kids stayed home from school on January 7 for our Christmas Day. I remember feeling rather lucky when I realized that the “English” kids didn’t get the same privilege.
After 1963, the year Nestor went off to university, we started celebrating Christmas Eve on December 24. After that, Mom and Dad always kept 2 Christmases.
Mom, once again I take my hat off to you because I’ve done that a couple of times, but it’s just too much work for me.
Instead, I’m looking at January 6 as an opportunity to look back at the celebration my family just had on Dec. 24, 2012, and at one of the Ukrainian Christmas traditions we observed.
Assembled for the traditional prayer,
“Our Father . . .”
We were very happy that Nicole’s fiancé, James Wick, was with us.
On the table was a bowl of Kutya.
Kutya, representing prosperity and peace, is always the first dish served on Christmas Eve. It can be served hot or cold, but Mom always served it hot. Many families add poppyseeds, nuts, and fruit to the Kutya, but I only like it the way Mom prepared it.
Mary Stadnyk’s Kutya
It’s actually very simple to make as you can see from my typed version:
MARY STADNYK’S KUTYA (serves 8)
1 cup wheat berries
6 cups water
1/8 tsp salt
About 1 cup white sugar (or more!)
*Prepare early in the day.
1. Rinse the wheat.
2. Bring wheat, salt, and water to a boil in a large saucepan.
3. Lower the heat to absolute minimum, cover the pot, and simmer for 3 hours. Taste. If it’s tender, turn off the heat. If needed, cook another hour. (Mine just needed 3 hours this year.)
4. Check how much liquid is still in the pot. There should be ½ inch of liquid above the wheat. If not, add more water now. (I like a lot of juice in Kutya. Don’t worry – this won’t affect the final taste.)
5. Just before serving, bring wheat back to a boil. Add sugar – half a cup at a time. Taste after each half cup of sugar added. I like it very sweet.
6. Serve hot.
Traditionally, it’s very bad luck if everyone does not eat every bit of kutya that’s in their bowl. So only serve a little to small children and to anyone who has never had it before.
Most small children LOVE Kutya – I actually used to ask for seconds and would eat leftover Kutya for breakfast on Christmas morning. (And remember I was a fussy eater!) But Nicole never liked Kutya so I only gave her a very little – of course, she was expected to eat some, and she did, without complaint, because it was CHRISTMAS and it was TRADITION.
In the very old days, the first spoonful was taken by TATO, the head of the household. He would fling the wheat into the air and it was considered lucky if some of the grains stuck to the ceiling. So that Kutya must have been VERY sweet and sticky – probably sweetened with honey. When Mom told us about this, we begged Dad to do it, so, to our delight, he did . . . just that one year.