Before our celebration of Christ’s nativity, we bid each other “smachnoi kuti”, in effect saying “enjoy your delicious kutia!” This mention of kutia also can be a metonym for the Sviata Vechera or Holy Supper: may our 12 dish ritual meal, in honour of the sacred event of the Incarnation, be blessed and good. Each Holy Supper, on each Christmas Eve, begins with a spoonful of kutia; each person at the table obliged to have at least a taste in order to take part in the great mystery of Christmas (Heaven and Earth as One).
On the eve of the feast of Jordan—the Theophany—when through Christ’s baptism we recognize God as three, our Ukrainian tradition is to repeat the “Sviata Vechera”. This meal called spil’na (communal) Kutia, significantly, is eaten with the parish community. Rather than on the Eve of Theophany, our parish family will share this meal on the closest Sunday—this Sunday, Jan. 20th.
Have you wondered why these momentous occasions are associated so integrally with this one dish, that we rarely see, except during this cycle of religious feasts?
Kutia, despite its endless variations in Ukrainian kitchens, is essentially comprised of 3 ingredients: cooked grain, poppyseeds, and honey. The recipe predates Christianity, yet we know that even in ancient pagan traditions, it was used as a ritual food, carrying deep symbolic significance that today is reinforced when we see that the miracle of Christ’s birth reaches all creation and all time: past as well as present and future.
So, let’s reflect on this delicious, meaningful dish that we make each year and (in our home) fling to the ceiling with delight.
- Whole grain (wheat). Wheat is a symbol of life. It grows from a tiny seed and eventually becomes the “daily bread” that nourishes and sustains us. Without food we die. Even one spoonful of kutia consists of multiple grains. In life we cannot exist in isolation. We need each other to live. Wheat harvests not only provide food, but also the seeds for future sustenance. Wheat is also a metaphor for all humanity, generations past and still to come. The meaning of grain, on reflection, is not finite—we could think of ever more and deeper ways it reflects our being.
- But what about poppyseeds? 3. Honey? Mixed with the significant grain, the dark, bitter seeds symbolize the dark, bitter elements of existence that become palatable with the goodness and sweetness of life—symbolized, of course, by the honey.
Together this dish of kutia, consumed during the times we especially celebrate God becoming human, becomes sacred in itself. God with us (Emmanuel) is life itself. God gives us life and grace. We, as a family, as a community of faith, share life itself. We share God in each other. We nurture, sustain, and enrich each other.