Christmas Eve is known as Sviata Vechera in the Ukraine, and the 
 following is a description of their celebration.  It is from the 
 cookbook “Festive Ukrainian Cooking” by Marta Pisetska Farley.
 
 The traditional year for the Ukrainians started with the great period 
 of abstinence called Pylypivka (Advent).  By fasting on certain days 
 and restraining from dancing, Ukrainians prepared themselves for 
 Christmas and its celebration.  Until quite recently, Ukrainians 
 celebrated the Christmas season from Christmas Eve (January 6, O.S) 
 to the Feast of Jordan (January 19, O.S.).  The Birth Of Christ 
 (Rizdvo Klustove) started the church calendar for Uniate and 
 Orthodox Christians alike.  As with many great feasts, the eve 
 (navecherie) preceding the day marked the beginning of the 
 celebration.  Christmas Eve ended with Holy Supper (Sviata Vechera). 
 However there was much preparation beforehand.  Before partaking of 
 the Christmas Eve meal, the family fasted all day.  The house was 
 put to order, but no outside work was done.  All members wore 
 festive clothing.  This was a holy day.  The tone of the supper was 
 that of “festive dignity”.  The meal officially began with the 
 sighting of the first star, a task assigned to the children.  The 
 male head of the household (hospodar) took a bowl of Kutia 
 (flummery) and invited the should of all the departed family members 
 to partake of the meal.  He invited the forces of nature to share in 
 the meal and to protect the family from natural calamities in the 
 coming year.  Specific rituals and spells to placate nature’s fury 
 differed regionally.  One important ritual that prevailed in many 
 households was the communal sharing of bread and honey.  The 
 Hospodar to a plate with small pieces of kolach and a dish 
 containing honey and salt and dipping each piece of bread lightly 
 into the honey, approached each member of the household, starting 
 with the eldest.  “Chrystos razhdayet'sia” (“Christ is born”); he 
 was answered “Slavite Yeho” (“Let us glorify Him”),  The female head 
 of the household (hospodynia) repeated the greeting.  After that the 
 supper began, dish following dish, ending with kutia or uzvar, 
 depending on which one began the celebration.  Each family in each 
 locality developed its own adaptation of this meal, so that there 
 were many variations on a basic theme.  After the meal, the hospodar 
 visited the barn animals and added kutia to their food.  This 
 custom reflected the strong belief that the dish had magical 
 properties far greater than the sum of the ingredients would 
 suggest.  The animals were believed to be endowed with speech on 
 Christmas Eve, as a gift from God for their service to the Christ 
 Child on the night of His birth.  Other ritual activities were 
 important ot varying degrees in different regions.  The menu for 
 Sviata Vechera varied from province to province in execution and in 
 order of presentation.  The number of dishes ranged from twelve 
 (most common) to nine or seven.  Each number had magical 
 associations.  The table was set with specific items.  The table was 
 strewn with hay, symbol of fertility and abundant harvest, then 
 covered with a cloth.  A large kolach flanked by candles, was placed 
 in the center of the table.  A dish of salt and a dish of honey were 
 put at the host’s place.  On a sideboard, a lit candle with a dish 
 of kutia commemorated the family’s dead.  An extra place for the 
 unexpected guest remained set until the end of the meal.  A sheaf of 
 wheat, symbol of abundance and nature itself, graced a corner of the 
 room. 
 
 Christmastime lasted three days, January 7-9 (O.S.).  Guests and 
 neighbors were invited to visit on Christmas Day and on the second 
 and third days of Christmas.  Treats were numerous, primarily nuts, 
 sweet cookies, or rolls.  Visits were frequent and convivial.  Among 
 all the groups of people, caroling was the main outdoor activity. 
 Koliady and shchedrivky were sung throughout the Christmas season, 
 an ancient practice probably traceable to Roman influence.  Every 
 peer group - Hospodari, hospodyni, girls, and young men - went about 
 the village or town and greeted each household with these seasonal 
 songs.  Each group had its own appropriate repertory that differed 
 from region to region, but the custom of caroling was all pervasive. 
 Koliadnyky (carolers) were invited into the homes and given treats, 
 food and drink; horilka (whiskey) to hospodari, nuts and fruits to 
 the boys and girls.  Today, in the United States and Canada, koliada 
 is used as a vehicle through which Ukrainian charities solicit 
 donations.  The gift now is money.  Children and young adults still 
 visit Ukrainian homes and sing the ancient “Bob Predvichnyi” (“God 
 Eternal”) and receive traditional treats.  Christmas was followed by 
 Mulanka (New Year’s Eve), January 13 (O.S.).  The holiday had fused 
 with an old celebration know as Shchedryi Vechir (Generous Evening). 
 Foods prepared for this evening differed regionally.  In the Dnipro 
 area, pies with meat filling and buckwheat pancakes with sausages 
 were offered.  In the southern Ukraine, bubyky (small savory rolls) 
 found popularity.  In the Hutzul area, in the Carpathain Mountains, 
 vareyky were featured.  One old custom for welcoming the new year 
 was the practice of zasivannia (sowing).  A young boy took a sack of 
 wheat and went from house to house, greeting everyone with the New 
 Year, scattering the grain on the floor and reciting appropriate 
 verses of good wishes.  For this greeting, he was rewarded with 
 coins.  Some housewives hurriedly offered the coins so as not to 
 have an excess of “good wishes” to clean up.  Yordan-Vodokhreschenia 
 (Jordan-Blessing On The Waters) signaled the end of the Christmas 
 celebrations.  On the eve of January 19 (O.S.), a scaled down 
 version of Sylata Vechera was served.  This had the popular name of 
 holodna kutia (hungry meal).  On the feast day (praznyk) itself, 
 after the church service, everyone went to the local stream or river 
 where the men had carved a large cross from the river’s ice, often 
 stained red with beet juice.  There, the cross and the waters were 
 blessed by the priest.  This was a combined effort to celebrate the 
 Christian feast of Christ’s baptism and to “buy protection” from the 
 forces of nature from Spring floods. 
 
 Modern Adaptation of Sviata Vechera (Christmas Eve)
 
 The modern adaption of Sviata Vechera is faithful to some of the old 
 traditions discussed above.  The house is cleaned, the table set 
 with the best china and candles.  One candle and one dish of kutia 
 are placed in the window in memory of the souls of ancestors -- or 
 more recently, in memory of the Ukrainian soldiers who fought in the 
 war for the Ukraine’s independence in 1918.  An extra place is set 
 for the unexpected guest.  The table is covered by an embroidered 
 linen cloth.  A large kolach with Christmas greenery (instead of the 
 traditional straw or hay) serves as the centerpiece.  A plate with 
 small pieces of kolach and a dish of honey is set at the head of the 
 family’s place.  In the corner of the room, a Christmas tree 
 decorated with handmade ornaments substitutes for the ancient sheaf 
 of wheat (didukh).  The same basic dishes are prepared and served in 
 traditional order.  Dietary restrictions have been somewhat modified 
 by the church, and many cooks cheat a little by including 
 ingredients that were formerly banned.  These include eggs, butter, 
 and cheeses, which are used primarily in the preparation of kolach, 
 pampushky, and fillings for varenyky.  It is very proper for 
 families to develop personal adaptions of the basic Sviata Vechera 
 menu.  Some families dote on fried fish or marinated herring (a 
 perennial favorite).  Some prefer the fancy fish quennelles.  Some 
 serve two or three fish courses.  Individual interpretations of 
 borsch are also common.  Usually, the borsch served is a full bodied 
 but meatless “Ukrainian” borsch, which includes all the vegetables 
 and is thickened with zaprazhka (roux).  Some families serve just a 
 clear bouillon of beet broth, kvas, and stock with vushka 
 (Dumplings) floating on top.  The target number of dishes is twelve, 
 in honor of the apostles, or the magic numbers of nine or seven if 
 one is superstitious.  The traditional menu adapted usually includes 
 braided bread (kolach) with honey, beet soup or broth (borsch) and 
 dumplings (vushka) with mushroom filling, fish in aspic, or in any 
 other style, stuffed cabbage leaves (holubtsi) with mushroom sauce, 
 dumplings (varenyky) filled with mashed potatoes and sauted onions, 
 dumplings filled with cabbage and sauerkraut, compote of dried fruit 
 (uzvar), flummery (kutia) of wheat kernels with honey, poppy seeds, 
 etc., tea with lemon, yeast raised doughnuts (pampushky) with rose 
 preserves.