Our parish’s journey towards ecological conversion is illuminated in the wonder of Christmas: the nativity of Christ, the incarnation of God. We, Ukrainian Catholics, have only to revisit our Christmas traditions handed down from generation to generation, reaching back to pagan times. In these practices we act out the experience of Laudato Si—depicted in our icon of the Nativity: heaven and earth joined; humans, angels, animals, nature, joined in the sacred mystery of creation.
Our koliady and shchedrivky, the oldest folk songs we have, celebrate the holiness of nature. The rituals of our Sviata Vechera that we know to this day, revere the presence of God in our surrounding environment. We honour the earth, its products and its creatures.
Think of the weekly actions we are undertaking in order to take part in improving the state of the world. For example, we have looked at the global benefit of eating less meat, buying locally and reducing plastic. We have reflected on the need to appreciate our connection to each other and the earth we stand on.
Our Sviata Vechera is a veritable feast of only meatless dishes consisting of seasonal and thus local products! The number 12, recalling Christ’s 12 apostles, symbolized the 12 moons of the year, in pre-Christian times. This celebration of Christ’s light in the darkness of the winter, acknowledges the intrinsic presence of God with us, around us, in us. Animals, pets are included in the Holy Supper—fed before the family begins. We look to the sky for the first star to begin the meal: this for us is the star of Bethlehem. The hay under the table and cloth tells us of Christ’s manger and a sheaf of grain (didukh, grandfather) symbolizes the presence of our ancestors participating in this ritual meal. These symbolic “decorations” are neither plastic nor expensive and they tie us to the unfathomable event of Christ’s birth. A candle in the window invites anyone without their own family celebration to join us. On the table the 3 ringed braided kolach stands for the Trinity, the central candle representing Christ’s light to the world.
The foods we prepare also tie us to each other, the earth and to all time. The grains of Kutia symbolize life; honey and poppyseed evoke life’s bitterness and sweetness. We leave a place setting empty, for our loved ones who have gone before us and are still to come. No one is to be excluded from this meal. The fish, borsch, holubtsi, pyrohy, with cabbage, grains, and abundant mushroom dishes attest to the plenty we can have access to even in the dead of winter. The Uzvar of dried fruit derives from the fall and summer harvests that are dried and saved for this holy meal.
Our traditions, of course, could fill volumes, but remembering why we have any of our customs and rituals helps to keep us grounded in the material reality of our Christian Faith. Like our ancestors who could see God in the grain that sustains our life, we too can focus on Rizdvo as the miracle of our humanity. We can recognize that as Christians, our work is to be not “spiritual” beings, but truly “human” beings—as God became human, so too must we. “God comes to us disguised as our life.” (Paula D’Arcy).
“The symbol of Christmas—what is it? . . .
It is the promise of tomorrow at the close of every day, the movement of life in defiance of death, and the assurance that love is sturdier than hate, that right is more confident than wrong, that good is more permanent than evil.”
This Christmas, May the peace of Christ be reborn in our hearts, bringing us hope to see light in the gloom,
courage to find joy in each day
patience to see goodness in others,
and gratitude for the earth we share . . .
May this Christmas peace spill over in love from our own hearts to everyone we meet.
This is the magic of Christmas!