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12 Days of Traditions – Day 5: Ruth Raftery

A Christmas Eve Tradition

Growing up in a Carpatho-Rusyn Family and attending a Russian Orthodox Church – Christmas Eve Dinner (called the Holy Supper) was full of symbolism and ethnic traditions.

First, the entire day was a strict fast day. That meant no meat or dairy was allowed.  The Supper consisted of 12 foods (no meat or dairy), symbolic of the 12 Apostles.  Foods included Kesalicha (a thick soup made with oats – that my cousin and I referred to as wallpaper paste), pierogi some with cabbage inside, some with prunes, sauerkraut, potatoes, lima beans in a brown gravy, peas in a brown gravy, Lenten bread, mushroom soup, fish, garlic cloves and salt. As a kid, it was the worst meal ever – and according to tradition, everyone was supposed to have at least one bite of everything.   

The table was always set with a white tablecloth to symbolize the cloth that baby Jesus was wrapped in and hay was put under the tablecloth to symbolize the manger. One white candle was put in the center of the table to represent the star of Bethlehem.  At the end of the meal, the youngest person blew out the candle and whichever way the smoke went (whether it went straight up or not) was supposed to mean something – which I have totally forgotten now.

Although I never became a huge fan of the food, I grew to appreciate the tradition as I became an adult.  I remember thinking that it had probably been very much the same, very simple meal, that my grandparents families shared in the Carpathian Mountain Region of Eastern Europe.     

My parents’ generation is now gone and my extended family comes from all different religious and ethnic traditions.  We now have an ”Italian Christmas Eve” – using many Italian Christmas Eve traditions with my sister-in-law’s family.  As I write this, and think about the traditions I grew up with, I am going to try to incorporate some of the things into our current extended family Christmas Eve. It will be nice for my children to have an appreciation of the traditions that meant so much to my family for many generations.


candle, carpathian, Christmas, church, dinner, fast, food, holy, supper, tradition

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