Christmas and Malanka
Christmas and Malanka
A full church calendar has many saint’s days and holidays. Even large urban churches do not mark all of them. Rural churches, with their lack of clergy, can celebrate only the most major holidays.
The research and documentation of the Sanctuary Project was performed in the summer and the team did not have the opportunity to return in the winter to watch Christmas celebrations.
Christmas Because Christmas comes in winter when rural roads are difficult to navigate, Christmas services are held in one of the larger churches in a rural priest’s circuit. Those members who can make it attend. Most of the celebrating that goes with Christmas takes place in the home and in the community. Relatives who have moved away but who can visit parents or grandparents living in rural areas do so.
The Christmas Eve meal
All respondents who spoke about Christmas described the Christmas Eve meal. This is the big family event of the season. People try to make 12 Lenten (meaning meat-free) dishes for this meal. Kutiia, a dish made with whole wheat berries, honey, and sometimes raisins and/or nuts is obligatory and many respondents mentioned their father or grandfather throwing it against the ceiling to predict the harvest for the coming year: a large amount of kutiia sticking to the ceiling meant an ample harvest and a small amount meant a poor yield. A compote of dried fruit often went with the kutiia. Other dishes were typically nachynka or mamalyha – a cornmeal mush. Dishes of mashed broad beans were served, as were pyrohy, meatless holubtsi, beet holubtsi, and sometimes fish. Mushrooms, often mushrooms gathered by the family, were a frequently mentioned treat. Doris Kule, shown below at a cemetery near her old family home, described the mamalyha she had at her Christmas Eve supper.
Respondents remembered many rituals connected to the Christmas Eve meal, only some of which are practiced currently. One was fasting all day and waiting for the evening star to begin eating. The youngest child was sent to look for the first star, the signal that the meal could begin. A number of people mentioned having a didukh, a sheaf of wheat, set in the icon corner. Still more remembered hay being placed under the table. In the hay would be candy and nuts for the children. Placing a treat into the hay under the table was so important that one respondent remembers his father insisting on going into town in very bad weather so that he could get some candy to treat his grandchildren. While making or purchasing a didukh does occur now, the straw under the table is no longer a common practice.
Carolling was widely practiced and was often used as a fundraiser for the church. Carolling was typically done by young adults who would receive drinks and snacks in addition to donations for the church. Because of the depopulation of the prairies, people now carol in a few areas only. Also, carollers are now people of all ages. The activity is not limited to young adults and some respondents mentioned needing an old person as part of the group because it was that person who knew the Ukrainian words to carols. With the aging, not only of the carollers, but also the parishioners for whom they sing, some groups will make a point of going to retirement homes to cheer up the residents. House-to-house carolling is rare. Below is the star people carried when they went carolling.