Ukrainians, including all the variants of Orthodoxy and Eastern Rite — a.k.a. “Greek” — Catholics (my peeps), celebrate Christmas Eve on January 6th.
I personally just celebrated Christmas Eve on the 6th, Christmas on the 7th, Maria’s Day on the 8th, and Stepan’s Day on the 9th.
Some Ukrainians begin celebrating on Roman’s Day, which is December 1st and I expect all my friends to remember that! And I know which of you have read this BECAUSE I BACKTRACED IT!
They continue with only a minor lull through St. Mykola’s Days on December 19th, which is when gifts are exchanged, to New Years, which is when gifts have been exchanged since Soviet Times — I think (The holiday seems to have adopted many of the atheist customs associated with western Christmas, including Christmas trees. A friend didn’t believe me when I told her American’s don’t exchange gifts on New Years.) through Christmas and the aforementioned holidays connected to it, on to Old Calendar New Year on the 13th/14th (there’s a blurb here which relates it to Slavic stubbornness, and finally to Yurdan (spelling?), which I thought was January 17th, but Ukrainian Wikipedia says it’s the 19th.
It celebrates the Christening, and I just spent 15 frustrating minutes failing to find an English-language reference to it. here‘s the translated Wikipedia page.
There’s a funny saying in Ukraine “From Romana to Yurdana is Ukrainian Ramadan,” meaning not that people fast or anything, but that they celebrate for a very long time.
Okay, I thought this was going to be a five-line blog post — a sweeping overview of sites and sounds. Obviously, I’m wrong.
I feel I ought to say something about the schism between Catholic, Protestant Christmas (December 25th) and Orthodox, Greek Catholic Christmas (January 7th).
Almost every time I write about this, I wander all over the internet getting the vocabulary straight, then send my email and instantly forgetting everything. No more, at least not tonight. It’s 1 am. I’m tired and hung over. (There is NO DAMN REASON for pounding shots with breakfast . . . and coffee, and lunch . . . ).
My dear fellow Ukrainians, you probably wouldn’t need to know 1001 home remedies if so many of you didn’t drink from breakfast onward. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the characteristically weak immune systems I so often hear Ukrainians mentioning and attributing to Chernobyl might have more to do with the ol’ fire water. I’m being harsh. Today was a holiday. A very special holiday. The Day of Stepan. Whoever that was.
So I’m not going to do my homework for this blog post. I’m going to keep sipping water, write this blog, maybe another 5-liner, a couple emails, then go to bed. I invite my readers to look up the Great Schism, the Julian, Revised Julian, and Gregorian calendars, movable feasts, dual dating, and whatever else Wikipedia might lead you to.
Okay, so finally, what I wanted to write from the start before getting tangled in history and tradition, is a brief overview of my Christmas, which was great, and could certainly have been worse:
Going to the cemetery to put pine branches on the graves of relatives and freezing my hands trying to light candles.
Kneeling to pray before Christmas Eve dinner.
Eating, drinking at another table, and another, and another
Gold teeth, swollen hands, and fingernails thick as oyster shells.
America, diaspora, I speak so well, family, family, why aren’t I married yet — maybe you’ll find a Ukrainian girl, hehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehe.
Sledding on a sled, sledding on a bag.
A neice indifferent to her accent as she read the Green Eggs and Ham, my gift.
Taking the nieces to carol under lit windows in their town.
Little devils, kings and kozaks wandering through town.
Nieces insisting my accompanying them was worth a cut, though I didn’t sing.
Me hiding the cash (45 UAH) in Green Eggs and Ham.
Them finding it and hiding it in my jacket.
A four day-long argument with the women over whether or not I could eat more.
A four day-long argument with the men over whether or not I could drink more.
Barely making it to the toilet in time at 3am of my first night.
A miserable hour of keeping myself standing in church, dizzy, dehydrated, exhausted, freezing, back and knees aching, cotton-mouthed sinning with my angry, impatient thoughts.
Holding my plate at arms length from the table because I really, truly, honestly, definitely could not eat any more, delicious though it was and it was.
Not resisting my new Kindle’s free 3g browsing and trying not to feel extravegant explaining it to cousins.
Meats, fats, pickled things from the garden (or the woods, in the case of the mushrooms), salads and vodka cognac wine.
Busting out the old back-wash-into-the-chaser trick so that I wouldn’t die.
The legendary pork jello.
Totally impressing the nieces with my mad Super Mario Brothers skillz (I knew that rigorous childhood training regime would eventually pay off.)
Kung Fu Panda dubbed into Ukrainian.
Stories about my grandfather and his sibling. (maybe I’ll share later.)
Insisting I had to go, finally, and telling them I haven’t seen this horse yet, the one I drink to as a parting kick in the balls from every table. Where is he? Okay, to that fucking horse.
Edit: I didn’t mean to imply I found myself in the company of drunks. They all seemed to hold their alcohol extremely well. There are lots of drunks in Ukraine, but not at the tables I joined.