17360Ukrainian families mark Orthodox Christmas
- Jan 7, 2013http://www.reddeeradvocate.com/news/Kkrainian_families_mark_Orthodox_Christmas_185812872.html
Ukrainian families mark Orthodox Christmas
By Lana Michelin - Red Deer Advocate
Published: January 06, 2013 1:36 PM
Orthodox Christmas is celebrated at the Prysunka family home with hay
under the tablecloth, braided bread on the table, and 12 meatless dishes
served to guests.
Arlene Prysunka is a second-generation Canadian.
Although the Red Deer resident was born in Glendon, half a world away
from the country her grandparents left in about 1918, Prysunka is
continuing to celebrate Ukrainian Christmas with much of the same
traditions as when her grandmother was a girl.
“We are very proud to hold onto our heritage,” she said. “Life is so
busy, but we have to . . . take the time to respect our traditions and
the immigrants who came here to make a new life.”
On Sunday, the first star of the evening signaled the beginning of the
Christmas Eve celebration of Holy Night.
It precedes today’s Orthodox Christmas Day, which falls annually on Jan.
7 under the Julian calendar used by the Orthodox Church. (It predates
the more widely used Gregorian Calendar and runs about 13 days later.)
In their Deer Park home, the Prysunka family sat down on Sunday at a
dinner table laiden with symbolism: There was hay reminiscent of
Christ’s manger; wheat representing abundance; and 12 courses standing
for the 12 apostles.
The dishes were meatless and free of dairy to acknowledge the importance
of animals in farming culture, as well as their presence in the stable
during Christ’s birth.
“We don’t eat them (today),” said Arlene Prysunka, whose family is not
Her husband, Sherwin Prysunka, started the meal by addressing the large
gatherings of family and friends.
He lifted a spoonful of wheat mixture called kutya, and encouraged the
guests to taste some for luck.
In more rustic times, the wheat would be thrown at the ceiling.
If it stuck, it was a sign of coming prosperity, “but we kind of skip
that part,” said the Prysunka’s daughter, Stephanie LaPrairie. who noted
wheat isn’t the easiest thing to scrape off stippling.
The flower shop owner, who took Ukrainian dancing as a teen, always felt
lucky to celebrate two Christmases while growing up in Red Deer — Santa
always came on Dec. 25th and then there was a second event to look
While the Jan. 7 Christmas brought no presents, there was always
caroling and the preceding celebration of food, family and friends.
Making 12 complicated courses — including pickled fish, pyrogies,
cabbage rolls, and borscht — is labour-intensive, but the 30-year-old is
looking forward to passing on the tradition to her own daughter, Olea,
who at one-and-a-half already has her own traditional Ukrainian dress.
LaPrairie noted the January holiday used to be a celebration of
ancestors in pre-Christian times, and it still honours the legacy of
Her own great-grandfather was an educated man who worked at a newspaper
in Ukraine, which was then controlled by Russia.
Finding himself imperiled during the Bolshevik Revolution, he escaped to
Canada, where his native language and skills weren’t recognized. But
like many immigrants, her great-grandfather made the best of a new
situation — which meant taking up farming.
LaPrairie said even when Ukrainian newcomers were given what was
considered poor quality land, they dug out the rocks, made use of willow
branches, and persevered in growing crops to give their children a
Maintaining the Orthodox Christmas tradition is, in part, about
remembering “where we came from,” she added.
“If our (ancestors) didn’t make sacrifices and emigrate to Canada, we
wouldn’t have the lives we have now.
“It’s our responsibility to pay tribute to their hard work and sacrifices.”