Context: This festival comes from my friend JZ, a USC student who grew up in a Chinese Ukrainian household in Toronto. He celebrated both aspects of Chinese and Ukrainian culture and was kind enough to share some of the experiences he’s had with that in his life with me.
JZ: Ukraine is very religious, so the entire country is basically Orthodox Christians. The entire family would gather for our Christmas and there would be a Christmas eve service that everyone went to and there was also a Christmas day service. The dinner before Christmas Day always had to be vegetarian… well there could be fish, but everything else had to be vegetarian. After the Christmas day service everything was pretty much normal, Ukrainians are big on pierogi and cabbage rolls. Food was a massive thing, my Ukrainian grandparents would get pissed, like really mad, if we didn’t eat everything. The only thing that made our Christmas Ukrainian was the food, everything else was standard with what I’ve heard from other Christmas traditions. The essential things was pierogis, cabbage rolls, borsch, sausages, shit like that. Basic European stuff.
Analysis: This Ukrainian variation on Christmas points to some of the important aspects of Ukrainian culture. Religious piety is the biggest one, as it seemed from JZ’s telling that service, both before and after Christmas was given, as if everyone did it. Where I am from, people tend to vary on how religious they are, and it is common for people to skip any kind of religious services all together. In Ukraine it is clear that the people have a generally homogenized religion and all follow relatively piously, although it could be the case that JZ’s family was particularly religious. The other difference that JZ’s celebration had with other celebrations I have heard of is the food. Many people would consider traditional Christmas food to be some kind of large meat, like turkey or ham, and an assortment of side dishes, at least in the United States. In Ukraine it makes sense that they eat popular Ukrainian foods, as these are the foods that they have the most access to.