TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Nadiya Zaliska lays out food on the dinner table prior to Christmas Eve dinner at her family’s home in Brandon Sunday. For the many Ukrainians that follow the Julian calender today marks Christmas Day.
While Christmas may have ome and gone for many Brandon residents, the tree in Petro Zaliskyy and Nadiya Zaliska’s home still stands tall, decorated in the corner of their home.
Petro Zaliskyy says a prayer of thanks prior to Ukrainian Christmas Eve dinner at his family’s home on Sunday. After dinner the family went carolling with friends and to mass at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Vasyl Zaliskyy, Nadiya Zaliska, Dmytro Zaliskyy, friend Carson Lacey, Roman Zaliskyy and Petro Zaliskyy take three spoonfuls of Kutia, a Ukrainian dish of boiled wheat kernels mixed with honey, poppyseeds and nuts, at the beginning of Christmas Eve dinner at their home in Brandon on Sunday. It is tradition to fast all day prior to the meal on Christmas Eve. For the many Ukrainians that follow the Julian calender today is Christmas Day. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
A variety of foods that are meat, dairy and egg-free fill the dining room table at the Zaliskyy home prior to Christmas Eve dinner on Sunday. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Petro Zaliskyy smokes sausage in the backyard of his family’s home in Brandon on Saturday evening. Zaliskyy was preparing smoked meats for Ukrainian Christmas, which is today. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
That’s because today is the first of three days of Christmas for many in the Ukrainian community who follow the Julian calendar.
"This time of year fills my heart with joy," said Zaliskyy, who moved from the Ukraine eight years ago to pursue employment at Maple Leaf Foods, where he still works today.
Last night, the couple along with their three sons and a friend sat down to a traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve dinner that features 12-meatless dishes.
With the 12 dishes laid out meticulously on the table, the family first knelt facing the food in order to bless the meal in hopes of bringing good fortune in the coming new year.
"We have 12 dishes because Jesus had 12 Apostles," explained Zaliskyy, who wore a traditional embroidered shirt for the dinner.
Their home was filled with the wonderful smells of the holidays as Zaliska carefully prepared the 12 dishes, which included kolach (bread), holubtschi (cabbage rolls) and two types of pyrohy or varenyky (perogies) with potato and sauerkraut fillings.
The most important offering is the one the family ate first which is kutia, in which wheat kernels are boiled and mixed with honey, poppyseeds and nuts.
"The wheat represents the body of Christ," Zaliska said. "It is a very important day for Ukrainians and it is an important tradition."
The family sat down to eat around 4 p.m. after fasting all day. The early supper dates back to a tradition when the children would look to the sky for the first star of the night before supper began and Zaliska said she can remember being a young girl in Ukraine waiting and looking for the first star to appear. The star symbolized the trek of the Three Wise Men.
Following dinner, the family met up with friends to carol — something that transports Zaliskyy back to his childhood in Ukraine.
"I can remember stepping outside and you could hear groups of carollers all around you," he said. "It is our spirit. And people will bring an accordion and sing, it is a lot of fun."
Zaliskyy said it was customary that groups would go knocking on doors and sing traditional Ukrainian Christmas Carols and in many cases the groups collect donations for the local church.
While Christmas is a very joyous time of celebration and reaffirmation of their religious beliefs, it’s also a difficult time for Zaliskyy, who was a part of the first group of nine immigrants who came to Canada to work at the Brandon plant. It’s this time of year, Zaliskyy said, when he misses his family and friends back in the Ukraine the most.
Still to this day, he calls his mother almost everyday to talk to her briefly in the morning before going to work at Maple Leaf and the family has gone back to Ukraine three times during Christmas to celebrate with family and friends.
Ukrainian Christmas festivities conclude on Jan. 19 with the Feast of the Epiphany.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 7, 2013