The tradition of Holy Supper (Svjatyj Večer) is observed on the eve before the Nativity of Christ by families of Slavic descent. The meal with its traditions is full of meaning and symbolism. Even those who have unfortunately abandoned this glorious tradition likely fondly recall and cherish the childhood memories.
The various foods and customs surrounding this meal differed from village to village, indeed from family to family, and thus became a unique part of a family’s heritage. This custom of gathering together in joy as a family and sharing a special meal is not only a nostalgic memory but a vital way of reaffirming today God’s love for the world, a vital way of reaffirming the importance of the family where we learn to love and be loved. We do this in celebration of God’s love manifest in Christ Jesus.
Holy Supper begins at twilight when the ‘first star’ appears. The table is covered with a white tablecloth in memory of the swaddling clothes of Christ. Hay or straw is strewn on the floor and table to remind us of the poverty of the cave in which Jesus was born. A large loaf of bread (kračún) is the centerpiece of the table symbolizing Christ the Bread of Life. A candle in the center of this bread recalls the Star of Bethlehem, which marked the birth of our Lord, the true Light of the World. An extra place is always set at the table, for none are turned away in honor of the Holy Family having no place to stay.
The meal begins with the singing of the Christmas tropar (hymn) and the lighting of a candle placed in the center of the bread, symbolizing the star of Bethlehem. The hymn is followed by a traditional toast (vinčovánie) in thanksgiving for all the blessings of the past year and for all good things in the coming year:
We greet you with the Feast of Christ’s Nativity and wish that the Infant Jesus shower upon all of you His choicest blessings. May we all live in health, peace, and happiness and may we all celebrate another Christmas together. A Merry and Blessed Christmas!
Christ is Born! Glorify Him! + Christós Raždájetsja! Slavíte Jého!
The head of the house anoints with honey the forehead of all present with the words:
May we love one another as the bee loves honey.
A common cup of wine is then passed around for each to drink with the words:
May God unite us in faith and love.
Bread is broken and passed to all. It is then dipped into the honey and eaten with a clove of garlic with the words:
Life is comprised of both the bitter and the sweet. May we love one another and may God spare us from all evil.
The meal traditionally consists of twelve courses, symbolic of the twelve apostles. The twelve lenten dishes usually served in our household are: bread, garlic, honey, mushroom-sauerkraut soup, fish, bobal’ki, pirohi, mushroom stuffed cabbage (holubtsi), potatoes, sauerkraut, peas and mushrooms in gravy (zapráška), and dried fruit. The twelve lenten foods are eaten without knives or pepper. Pepper symbolizes arguments and knives the cutting of friendship
The meal ends with a closing prayer:
May He who was born in a cavern and lay in a manger for our salvation, Christ our true God, through the prayers of the Holy Theotokos, of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke and of all the saints have mercy on and save us for He is good and loves all. Amen
After Holy Supper, the candle is blown out gently and if the smoke rises straight up it signifies abundant blessings in the new year.