The traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve supper was a little different for the Dedi household this year. They had just 40 guests instead of the usual more than 50 they’ve been hosting for the last 20 years. “We decided to cut back a little this year,” said Bryan Dedi as he sat at the kitchen table taking a break from the hustle and bustle going on in the house. Renovations to the basement left little room for the large table that previously occupied the space, and this called for a reduction of the guest list.
It is January 6, Christmas Eve, for those who celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar. It’s 5 p.m., and a few guests are already in the house, including Regina Mayor Michael Fougere and Regina Coronation Park Saskatchewan Party MLA Mark Docherty. Lieutenant Governor Vaughn Solomon Schofield is at the door, and Barbara Dedi leaves the kitchen to greet the Lieutenant Governor with a welcoming hug. It seems the modest-size house is suddenly filled with guests as there is a rush to get everyone in and seated as the meal is set to begin. Tradition dictates, as soon as the first evening star is spotted the celebration begins. This year, however, the sky is cloudy so the meal will begin shortly after the 5:12 sunset.
Preparation for this meal actually began in the summer when Barbara Dedi (dee-die) planted the seeds for the ingredients she will use in the 12 meatless dishes which tradition dictates are to be served. “Some of what I make I cannot get at the grocery store, so I grow the ingredients, make the dishes and freeze them for use at Christmas,” said Barbara. The 12 dishes represent the 12 Apostles, she explains to her guests at the beginning of the meal, and it’s important to at least taste each dish. The meatless foods honour the various animals that were present at the time of Christ’s birth. Twenty-seven dishes have been prepared this year; all meatless with one exception. “I make one dish with sausage because some of the men said they need meat.” She learned some of the tradition from her own Baba (grandmother) but over time lost some of knowledge until she married a Ukrainian man whose parents came from Ukraine and she re-learned the traditions from her late mother-in-law. She began practicing them again when her own children began to arrive, and is now instructing her children in making those recipes.
Barbara says ‘the other Christmas’ is about giving presents; “Ours is more spiritual. We go back to the original with the birth of Jesus, and Mary and Joseph.”
Barbara is President of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Association and works with people from many cultures. “I’m often invited to cultural events and thought it would be nice if I could share my culture, and Ukrainian Christmas is our big event of the year.” And thus began what has become an annual event of sharing now in its 20th year. This year a woman from Kazakhstan and a First Nations woman took part in the preparation and cooking and Barbara learned something of their culture. Trent Weatherspoon also showed up do some cooking. “He told me he would like to learn about the cooking, so I invited him this year.”
A First Nations Elder is always present to offer a blessing as, “we are on Treaty Four territory you know,” and this year Lorna Standingready offers the blessing after which Dedi invites any others who would like to offer a blessing in their own language to do so, then the meal begins. Guests are invited to walk among the tables of food and take some from each offering until all have eaten.