Celebrations centre on faith, food and family members past and present
The Holy Supper, caroling and a legend about spiderwebs - are all centuries-old Christmas traditions in Ukraine. To delve deeper into this unique and symbolic family holiday, we decide to venture to the snowy Carpathian mountains. Our aim - to find out more about the customs and recipes that make this time of the year so important.
Christmas Eve falls on January 6 in the Orthodox Calendar. Most traditions revolve around faith, the family's welfare and remembering the past generations. Our host Viktoria prepares the supper - all 12 courses of it. And because fasting is essential before Christmas - all dishes are meat and dairy free. But why so many dishes?
Victoria: "The number 12 comes from 12 apostles near to Jesus Christ so this is the tradition to have all - this is a must to have all 12 dishes on the table"
Salads, fish, dumplings and bread fill the table - not forgetting the fruit flavoured Uzvar - thought of as the God's drink. But tradition extends well beyond the dinner.
Victoria: "You also have to have a little bit of dried grass, scissors and garlic. This is also a tradition to keep the ghosts away and to give thanks to all the dead people from the family - thanks to them for being here with us"
As well as remembering your ancestors, other customs include burning incense to keep the evil spirits away and waiting for the Star of Bethlehem to appear in the sky before the supper- plus don't forget about the animals.
Victoria: "People say that, at midnight, they start actually talking and they say everything they think about you…it might not be too good!"
We return to the dinner - and prepare for the first and most important meal of the evening - kutia - a mixture of wheat, poppy seeds, honey, walnut and raisins.
Tom Bell: "I haven't tried this before. I'll give it a go now and see what it tastes like…that's one of the first meals of the evening - the rest we're going to tuck into now".
It's these traditions from Christian and pagan cultures that make the Ukrainian Christmas so special.
This is Tom Bell for Ukraine Today in the Carpathian mountains. Tour organised in cooperation with Karpaty Travel