Factoid of the month: Ukrainians love to celebrate. I’ve learned that if I’m invited to a Ukrainian party, I must expect it to be no shorter than four hours long. Takes endurance! That said, I will lead you on a short narrative tour of how Ukrainians spend the end of December.
New Year’s is a big holiday here. It’s like a cross between our (I guess Christian) Christmas and Halloween. During the last week of December at school, all the classes have New Year’s parties, and some perform little plays/fairy tales.
New Year’s is when Ukrainians erect a tree (the “New Year’s Tree,” see the picture of my town’s central tree in a recent post), decorate it, and sometimes put presents under it. New Year’s is also when the Santa equivalent, Дідь Мороз (“didt moroz” = “Father Frost”), and his granddaughter Снігурочка (“snihurochka” = “Snow Maiden”) appear in their festive costumes. I saw three Дідь Мороз and Снігурочка during the week before New Year’s: at the Methodological Cabinet party, at the 5th Form’s fairy tale performance, and at the teachers’ New Year’s party at my school.
I celebrated New Year’s Eve itself with my counterpart, her husband, and some of their cousins and friends — it’s fun because we’re all in our 20s. It was a low-key celebration, though I was up until 4:40am because we didn’t start celebrating until 11pm!
January 7th is Ukrainian (Orthodox) Christmas (Різдво). On Jan 6th there is a big feast — traditionally, a “holy supper” of 12 lenten dishes. I was lucky enough to be invited to my counterpart’s house for the Christmas Eve feast, where I joined her family, husband, a few grandparents, and aunts/uncles/cousins who appeared later. My counterpart’s family isn’t so strict with the food, but she says in villages the people stick to the customs more. You can read about the traditional Ukrainian Christmas here. We did have a few of the traditional dishes: вареники (“varenyky,” stuffed dumplings I’ve talked about before), голубці (“holubtsi,” stuffed cabbage rolls which I really love), and кутя (a sort of porridge of wheat, honey, poppy seeds, and nuts, which we had to eat before anything else).
The evening was great fun, and I got to practice my Ukrainian, which has gotten a bit rusty since stopping 4-hour language lessons after training. At one point one of my counterpart’s uncles tried to give me a patronymic name. Here, everyone has a patronymic name, which is formed with the father’s first name and a gender-specific ending. It’s respectful to call anyone not a close friend or family member by their first name and patronymic. For example, all teachers go by their name and patronymic to their pupils (and colleagues, when in the presence of pupils). My counterpart is Галина Андріївна (Halyna Andriyivna), because her father’s name is Andriy. So this uncle asked me what my father’s name is: Terry, which in Ukrainian is Тарас (Taras). My first name is close to the Ukrainian name Таміла (Tameela), so he christened me Таміла Тарасівна (“Tameela Tarasivna”), and proceeded to just call me Тарасівна for the rest of the evening. Pretty hilarious.
I start teaching next week, so more posts are coming your way! Thank you to everyone who sent me holiday cards — I’ve set them up by my little Christmas tree and smile every time I walk by.