Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent Calendar: Holy Night Supper

Christmas Eve for my Rusyn ancestors was celebrated on January 6th. While I celebrated many Easters with my father's family, I was never able to celebrate Christmas with them. School holidays were over and my parents were wary of a hurried drive to upstate New York in January.

In 1979 my aunt gave me a cookbook prepared by the wives of priests in the Scranton Deanery of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Diocese (how's that for a mouthful?). It describes the traditional Holy Night supper served on Christmas Eve. It is the last meal of the forty day Advent fast and is prepared without meat or dairy products. Twelve dishes are served (representing the twelve Apostles) including bread and wine which represent the Last Supper. A candle, representing the Star of Bethlehem, lights the table which is covered with a white cloth representing the Virgin Mary. Garlic, honey and salt are placed on the table. After dinner special Christmas prayers are said, carols sung and the family goes to Church.

A sample menu: 
Wine and Bread
Split Green Peas with Záprašhka
Lima Beans with Záprašhka
Mushroom Soup with Záprašhka
Sauerkraut with Záprašhka
Mashed Potatoes
Lenten Píroghi
Fruit Compote
Stewed Prunes
Stewed Apricots

Tea or Coffee

Píroghi are similar to ravioli only filled with potatoes or prunes. Záprašhka is a brown roux made from flour and oil that thickens the soup or liquids served with the vegetables. Bobaľki, or small dough balls boiled in water, can be sweet or savory. Sweetened, they are served with honey and poppyseeds. Savory bobaľki are tossed with sauteed cabbage and onions.

Over the years I've tried to incorporate some of these foods into our Christmas Eve menus. Each effort has been an abject failure. My very American husband and children could never see bringing in Christmas with mushrooms and cabbage nor, I must admit, have I been impressed with my offerings. The worst was a sauerkraut and pea casserole that even the dog wouldn't eat. Perhaps one year I'll manage an elegant meatless and dairy-free Christmas Eve supper worthy of my roots.

Merry Christmas. Christos Razdajetsja! Slavite Jeho!

Source: Paňis' Cookbook. No place: no publisher, 1977. Printed privately to benefit Camp Nazareth, Mercer, PA. 


  1. Oh, goodness, we posted on the same subject within an hour of one another! Merry Christmas!

  2. At least you gave it the good old college try...

    I haven't been able to get far enough back to a specific section of the "old country" to know what kinds of foods were used to celebrate the winter holiday season. I think my family tends to stick with the tried and true from four or so generations back, so no matter what the main course is, we always have beans and cornbread with it...and Grandma's cream pies...

  3. Susan, I enjoyed this post, and yes, it is a lot like Greta's (great minds are alike). Also, I have another excuse to scroll down to "Evening Bells."
    Merry Christmas to you.

  4. Did you ever try the sour oatmeal soup? My in-laws make it for Russian Christmas. It's quite the time consuming process. They drizzle honey on it before eating it, but frankly NOTHING is going to make that stuff palatable. One year my sister-in-law (who's a very good cook BTW) over did the garlic. What's the only thing worse than sour oatmeal soup? Sour oatmeal soup with too much garlic. Bleck. My brother-in-law, who's not Ukranian, jokes that eating the soup is somekind of Ukrainian initiation/hazing rite. Frankly if college kids got caught doing that they'd be expelled. I'll stick with the pierogi.


Comments related to the information shared here are most appreciated. All comments are moderated, and since I am not actively researching right now it many take a day or two for your comment to post. Please know that it will post, and that I much appreciate the feedback.