One of the perks of having a Ukrainian dad and American mom is that my girls get two of almost every holiday. American Independence Day, Ukrainian Independence Day. New New Year’s Eve, Old New Year’s Eve. Western Easter, Orthodox Easter. Same is true for Christmas. They celebrate American Christmas with my family – Santa Claus, Jingle Bells, etc. in December. Then in January, they get Ukrainian Christmas – kutya, baby Jesus, etc. They love it.
We try to keep the two holidays separate, not putting the traditions of one in with the other. So Santa comes only once in December. We spend that holiday with my family eating our traditional foods (ham, clam chowder, lots of brownies and candy canes). In January, we focus on baby Jesus, the girls get gifts from my husband and me and my husband’s family, and we eat traditional Ukrainian foods. Because we live in
now, obviously the December Christmas gets a lot more hype. The challenge for us is to find ways to make
the Ukrainian traditions seem just as special.
We found that the easiest way to show the girls how cool their Ukrainian
heritage can be is to invite non-Ukrainians to celebrate with us. When the girls are teaching others about
their traditions and seeing how excited people get about the cool, unusual
foods, the girls get more excited and realize how special those traditions can
This year we invited a new group of friends to celebrate with us. Two of my friends brought their teenage sons to our Ukrainian Christmas Eve dinner. The presence of those two boys was invaluable! First, they are boys my daughters know from church and who my daughters look up to. Second, both young men came with open minds and no negativity. Even though some of the food we served was a little strange to them, neither made “ewww” faces (at least not in front of us) or showed any attitude about trying new ethnic food. They politely said, “No, thank you,” to some of the dishes and then took seconds and thirds of the things they did like. I loved watching my older daughter watch the boys eating and trying “her” food. When one of them raved about the varenyky, she beamed with pride. She is a huge fan of borsht, so she took great joy in watching him try it. She had fun showing her old USSR cartoons and explaining a Ukrainian story to them. She proudly dressed up in her Ukrainian style clothes to show them as well. The affirmations she received from those two young men built up a pride in her which I hope she hangs onto.