A Very Ukrainian Christmas


While traveling this November with Lydia Tarr to Ukraine, I found a beautiful book called Ukrainian Cuisine and Folk Traditions by Lidia Artiukh. I picked up this book in an area called “The Slope” in Kyiv, Ukraine, which is appropriately named given the market is located in a hilly area. If you are a lover of food and curious about its intersection with culture and history, the book is an investment worth making. I am of the opinion that much can be learned about a people and a culture through food and I make it a point to try traditional foods when abroad. My one requirement on our most recent trip (besides adoption business of course) was to try borsch before leaving Ukraine. Thankfully I had two red borsch experiences, one good and the other not so good. While visiting though, I found that there is so much more to Ukrainian food than I realized. I also learned that many of the most traditional dishes are still served today as a part of Christmas Eve and Christmas celebrations. The book explains this well. I have also confirmed with Ukrainians while traveling that many of these culinary traditions still hold true today.

Christmas Eve

In Ukraine, Christmas Eve is celebrated on January 6th; Christmas is on January 7th according to the Orthodox Christian Church’s calendar. Christmas Eve is often referred to as ‘Svjaty Vechir’ (Holy Night) and marks the end of the Christmas fast. Diets often remain restricted on this day, celebrating without meat or dairy. Traditionally there would be twelve dishes cooked for the Christmas Eve meal, representing the twelve apostles. Due to the meat and dairy restriction, the meal is typically focused on grains, produce and some fish. The typical first courses would include kutia (a wheat porridge) followed by red borscht, then cabbage rolls and varenyky (similar to Polish pierogi or Italian ravioli) filled with stewed cabbage. Ukrainian’s, I found were quite health conscious, but do love cakes and sweets, so no holiday mean would be complete without them! Ukrainians may satisfy their sweets teeth this evening with nalsysnyky (pancakes) stuffed with honey and poppy seeds and dried or baked fruits with honey.

Christmas Day

All fasts are broken today and Ukrainians look forward to celebrating with meat and dairy. Like many of the best dishes, the dishes prepared for Christmas day are often time consuming and sometimes complicated to prepare. The family may begin the meal again with borscht and potato croquettes with various fillings. On many Ukrainian Christmas tables you are likely to find various pork products, as our Ukrainian friends have told us that pork is the most popular meat followed by chicken and rabbit. Fried sausages and blood sausage or krovianka are particularly popular delicacy consumed on Christmas. These sausages are often served with sauerkraut and pickled cucumbers.  Sweets will of course follow the meal with delicious cakes and fruit filled pastries abound.

For our families hosting Ukrainian children this winter from Dec. 27 – Jan. 12, during Orthodox Christmas, you may consider trying out a recipe or two with your Ukrainian host child!

Please contact us for more information on adopting from Ukraine.

Nicole Skellenger works as MLJ Adoptions’ Chief Executive Officer and Adoption Attorney. Nicole has spent time in orphanages with children who have nothing and are desperate for affection and has committed herself to using her skills to create better futures for these deserving children.