For those who observe the Julian (Old) Calendar, tonight (January 6th) is the Eve of the Feast of the Nativity of Christ. In many areas of Eastern Europe, more specifically Slovakia, Carpatho-Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Byelorus, a strict-fast Holy Supper or Svjatyj Večer is observed on Christmas Eve. The customs differ from area to area.
The animals are fed a little earlier than usual. Typically the father picks up some straw and enters the house saying:
“We wish happiness, fortune and health with the approaching Feast Day of the Nativity of Our Lord, and we hope all of us may live to another Christmas, live in peace and happiness and we ask God’s blessing upon all of us.”
The straw is placed on the table, symbolizing the fact that little Jesus lay on the straw in the manger. The table is covered with a white cloth in memory of the swaddling clothes of infant Jesus. In the center of the table is placed a large round loaf of bread which symbolized Jesus as the bread of life. The candle which was placed in the bread symbolized the Star of Bethlehem which guided the shepherds and wise men to worship and adore the light of the world.
The meal then begins after the first star appears in the sky. There are traditionally twelve foods on the table, symbolizing the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. The foods included fish, bobalki, mačanka (mushroom sauerkraut soup), meatless holupki (stuffed cabbage), dried fruits, pirohi, kapusta (sauerkraut), honey, garlic… etc.
Everyone is standing.
The eldest exclaims for the first time the Christmas Greeting:
Christ is Born! Христосъ Раждается (Christos Raždajetsja)!
Glorify Him! Славите Его (Slavite Jeho)!
A single candle, placed near the center of the table, is now lit. This reminds us of the appearance of Christ, the Light of the World, who was born this day.
The eldest leads the family in a prayer of gratitude to God for the past year:
“Grant, O God, that we may live to an even better Holy Night next year. May the Lord give good health to our family and loved ones, to our good and bad neighbors, to our friends and enemies. May God bless all Christians here and abroad and may He grant eternal memory and heaven to the departed. And above all, may Little Jesus, born this night, bring peace, health and happiness!”
All reply: Grant it, O Lord! Дай Боже (Daj Bozhe)!
All present now join in the singing of the Troparion for the Feast:
Рождество Твое, Христе Боже наш, * возсия мирови свет разума! * В нем бо звездам служащии звездою учахуся * Тебе кланятися Солнцу правды * и Тебе ведети с высоты востока. * Господи, слава Тебе!
Your Nativity, O Christ our God, * has shone to the world the light of understanding! * For by it, those who worshipped the stars, * were taught by a star to adore You, * the Sun of Righteousness, * and to know You as the Orient from on high. * O Lord, glory to You!
The eldest then blesses the food:
Lord Jesus Christ, Who was born in a manger for our sake and salvation, bless this food and drink of Your servants, for You are holy, always, now and ever, and forever.
The eldest present then toasts with a glass of wine or champagne:
I greet you on the Feast of Christ’s Nativity and wish that the Lord grant us good health and fortune to praise the eternal God for many years.
God grant us many years! Многая лета (Mnohaja Lyeta)!
Then all are seated.
Each person takes a tooth of garlic, dips it in honey and makes the sign of the cross over the forehead of each family member. The honey sybolizes sweetness in life, and the garlic, bitterness. Our Rusin ancestors believed that garlic chased away all pagan and evil spirits and kept them healthy. While giving the garlic to taste the eldest says:
“May God grant that you be as healthy as this garlic!”
Each person dips the garlic in honey, symbolizing the sweetness in life, and the garlic, the bitterness, and all eat the garlic and honey simultaneously.
The eldest breaks the bread, first making the sign of the cross on the bottom of the loaf with the knife, and each person breaks off a small piece of bread as a symbol of Christ, the Bread of Life. The bread is then eaten together.
No one is permitted to skip a dish. After the dinner is complete, the eldest recites the following:
“My dear fellow Christians, I extend the best of wishes of the Holy Christmas Season. May Infant Jesus grant all that you need and may He bless you with health and happiness now and during the New Year. Christos Razdajetsja! Slavite Jeho! Christ is Born! Glorify Him!”
Then kol’jady – traditional carols – are sung.