REGINA — 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 50-plus they’ve been hosting for the past 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 had previously occupied the space, and this called for a reduction in the guest list.
Jan. 6 is Christmas Eve for those who celebrate according to the Julian calendar. At 5 p.m. a few guests are already in the house, including Regina Mayor Michael Fougere and Regina Coronation Park MLA Mark Docherty. Lieutenant-Governor Vaughn Solomon Schofield is at the door, and Barbara Dedi leaves the kitchen to welcome her with a hug. The modest house is suddenly filled with guests, and there is a rush to get everyone seated as the meal is about to begin. Tradition dictates that 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 sunset at 5:12 p.m.
Preparation for the meal actually began in the summer when Barbara Dedi planted the seeds for the ingredients she will use in the 12 meatless dishes that 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 one.”
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 except for one: “I make one dish with sausage because some of the men said they need meat.”
She learned some of the traditions from her baba (grandmother), but over time she lost some of the knowledge. Then she married a man whose parents came from Ukraine, and she re-learned the traditions from her mother-in-law. She began practising them again when her own children began to arrive, and is now instructing her children in making the same 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 own culture,” she said, “and Ukrainian Christmas is our big event of the year.”
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. NDP leadership candidate Trent Weatherspoon also showed up and did some cooking.
“He told me he would like to learn about the cooking,” Barbara explained, “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.”
This year Lorna Standingready offers the blessing, after which Barbara invites anyone who would like to offer a blessing in their own language to do so, and only then does the meal begin.
Guests are invited to walk among the tables and take some food from each until all have eaten.