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Ukraine is a wonderful country with rich culture and extremely interesting traditions. Ukrainians pay great attention to observing holidays. They try to keep all traditions and customs of their ancestry. As for the elements of Ukrainian character, first of them is kindness. There is hospitality, and friendliness. There is respect for elders, for the deceased; love for children, love of nature and animals. Ukrainians have a knack for humor; they are musical, artistic and wonderful craftsmen famous for their mastery in weaving, wood carving and ceramics. But skills and diligence in working the land is perhaps the greatest talent the Ukrainians possess.

The country's customs and oral folk literature reflect Old Ukrainian pre-Christian, and Christian cultures. The rituals derive from the folk calendar, religious celebrations like Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide, Ivana Kupala (St.John's Eve), New Year, and the autumn folk festivals dedicated to the end of the agricultural work.

Ukrainians have typical wedding customs, family traditions connected with crafts and jobs (the first day of sowing, beginning of the harvest), along with traditional symbols (straw didukh, decorated pysanka Easter eggs, holy water, and traditional dishes like kutia (boiled wheat with honey and poppy seed), paskha Easter bread, varenyky (something like ravioli), and pancakes. The rituals include folk dances, carols, and fortune telling, and blessing with water.

Christmas in Ukraine

For the Ukrainian people Christmas is the most important family holiday of the whole year. It is celebrated solemnly, as well as merrily, according to ancient customs that have come down through the ages and are still observed today. Ukrainian Christmas customs are based not only on Christian traditions, but to a great degree on those of the pre-Christian, pagan culture and religion. The Ukrainian society was basically agrarian at that time and had developed an appropriate pagan culture, elements of which have survived to this day.

Ukrainian Christmas festivities begin on Christmas Eve ([G]Dec.24; [J]Jan.6.) and end on the Feast of the Epiphany. The Christmas Eve Supper or Sviata Vecheria (Holy Supper) brings the family together to partake in special foods and begin the holiday with many customs and traditions, which reach back to antiquity. The rituals of the Christmas Eve are dedicated to God, to the welfare of the family, and to the remembrance of the ancestors.

With the appearance of the first star which is believed to be the Star of Bethlehem, the family gathers to begin supper. The table is covered with two tablecloths, one for the ancestors of the family, the second for the living members. In pagan times ancestors were considered to be benevolent spirits, who, when properly respected, brought good fortune to the living family members. Under the table, as well as under the tablecloths some hay is spread to remember that Christ was born in a manger. The table always has one extra place-setting for the deceased family members, whose souls, according to belief, come on Christmas Eve and partake of the food.

Ukrainian Cuisine

Ukrainian cuisine is closely linked to the customs, culture and way of life of the Ukrainian people. It is famous for its diversity and quality of flavor.

The most popular Ukrainian meal is "borshch." This thick, hearty and delicious soup is prepared with a variety of ingredients including meat, mushrooms, beans, and even prunes. Mushroom soups, bean and pea soups, soups with dumplings and thick millet chowders are also popular.

Holubtsi are Ukrainian cabbage rolls. The filling is mainly rice with a small amount of hamburger (unlike other East European cabbage rolls which are mainly hamburger with a small amount of rice). Cabbage leaves are steamed to make them soft and then the filling is added. The holubtsi are placed in a large pot, covered with tomato soup (or sauce) and baked. The word "holub" in Ukrainian means "dove," and holubtsi are in the shape of a dove.

Of course, every region of Ukraine has its own recipes and traditions.

Ukrainian Borshch

1 3/4 lbs. soup meat with bone (or equivalent beef marrow bone
10-12 cups of cold water
1 teaspoon salt
1 large chopped onion
6 small beets, cut into thin strips, along with their leaves and stems
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 large potato, chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped string beans
3 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup chopped tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, diced or crushed
1 tablespoon flour
lemon juice
salt and pepper for taste
fresh chopped dill
3/4 cup sour cream
2 or 3 bay leaves
1). Place the meat in a large cooking pot filled with the cold water. Add the salt and bring it slowly to a boil. Skim off any fat on the surface. Cover and let simmer for about 1 1/2 hours.
2). Add the bay leaves, onions, and beets and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the beets are almost done. If you are using young beets, cook them with the other vegetables. Chop up the leaves and stems of the beets and put them in.
3). Add the carrots, potatoes, celery and string beans and continue cooking another 10 minutes. Add the cabbage, cooking it until it is tender.

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