Christmas Tradition Breaks Fast with Kutya Dish
On Christmas Eve, Orthodox Christian families gather to mark the birth of Jesus Christ. There are 12 traditional dishes that don't contain meat, eggs or dairy products as it is the last day of the Christmas fast.
While singing a Christmas carol, Valentyna is making the main holiday dish – kutya. According to her recipe, it should be made of wheat.
“I come from the Rivne region. We did not cook kutya from rice or barley, we used only wheat. Grain symbolizes life, it sprouts and gives us bread. This is the basis of all life,” Valentyna Briazhunova said.
According to a long-standing Ukrainian tradition, while kutya is being made, a housewife tries to appease the winter to keep the elements from destroying future crops.
On Christmas Eve, Ukrainians set the table for 12 main dishes. Kutia is the most important. It is traditionally made from wheat and honey. But in each region, people make it their own way.
When the kutia is ready, Valentyna starts preparing the rest of the meal. The main thing to make it lean. On Christmas Eve believers observe a strict fast. “I will set a table with vegetable vinaigrette, baked fish, cabbage, canned food, potatoes with mushrooms and baked apples. I will set this table with all that God has us sent during this time – all my material and spiritual generosity,” Valentyna explains.
The didukh has been an integral part of Ukrainian Christmas from ancient times. This sheaf of wheat symbolizes the patron saint of the family, a bountiful harvest, and prosperity.
Ethnographer Anastasiia Pankova said, “The didukh was made from everything that grew in the field, so that next year there would be a rich harvest. It was brought into the house before the holiday dinner and placed near the icons. It stood there during all the Christmas holidays.”
While Ukrainians set their tables with festive dishes, koliadnyky, that is, Christmas carolers, walked from door to door. They brought the good news of the birth of Christ to the world.
“Most important was the Christmas star. Christmas carolers used to carry it with them. The stars were different depending on the region, with different numbers of rays. It was made from straw or from wood. They were brightly painted and decorated as beautifully as possible,” Pankova said.
Traditionally, carols can be performed all Christmas night and the next day. Christmas marks the end of the fast. From this day forward, everyone can eat meat and dairy products.