SO MUCH FISH!
Naturally, one of the highlights of going to Ukraine for almost two weeks immediately after Christmas is the fact that you then get Christmas not once, but twice. And this year, I had a very proper Ukrainian Christmas. The main meal, served on Christmas Eve, comes complete officially with 12 dishes, although how you count them changes from region to region (and from house to house). As far as I could tell, there were basically four things: the borscht/mushroom dumplings, fish times 100 (ok… at least five kinds of fish were on that table), varenyky of many kinds (potato, cabbage, cherry), and kutia, a wheatberry/poppy seed/honey concoction. To that, uzvar to drink, bread to eat, and so much more. All dishes are essentially vegan+fish, which is a little disappointing when you eat those homemade cherry varenyky, sans the sour cream.
I did my best to follow along, but as the first dinner started with a series of prayers and ended with a series of Christmas carols with no printed versions, I pretty much got to play the role of observer. But hey, at least I looked the part.
Uncle Josef, Maki’s great aunt’s widower, was quite the flirt.
After we had been thoroughly stuffed and filled, it was time, naturally, for round II, as we headed over to Maki’s cousin’s (Sofika’s) in-laws, who conveniently live a 10 minute drive from her own parents. Already thoroughly filled to the brim, I eyed the table suspiciously.
Yep, pretty much just eating. And more eating. And then, not surprisingly, more songs. This time, a couple song books were located, which made things considerably easier for me.
Sofika’s father brought out the accordion, and little Nazarchik joined in on a harmonica (true story: in Russian, the word is the same for the two instruments, which caused me a little confusion at one point in my life).
Needless to say, there was little about the traditions themselves that remotely mirrored my own Christmas eve. Though, clearly an appreciation for family (and so much food), which are a bit more familiar. Yes, a lovely, highly filling, but altogether wonderful evening.