Family Traditions: A Roy Christmas Eve

My dad is Ukrainian, but my mom was not. Despite their different backgrounds,  my mom embraced the Ukrainian traditions of my dad’s family and we began to celebrate Christmas Eve ~ Ukrainian style. As a child, I can vividly remember (okay more like vaguely ~ I don’t have the best memory) spending every Christmas Eve with my dad’s family. We would eat a very traditional Ukranian meal with the 12 meatless dishes. This consisted of an appetizer of “wheat” (Yuck ~ I tried it every year, but never did acquire a taste for it!) followed by borscht. The main meal included perogies (potato, cottage cheese and prune), cabbage rolls (sour and tomato), beet rolls, fish, creamed mushrooms, and some buns. I am not sure if the 12th dish varied from year to year or not as I am having trouble remembering it. I know we always had headcheese (not meatless), but can’t remember if it was part of the meal or served later in the evening after midnight mass. I know we also ate pyrizhky (tiny little buns stuffed with sauerkraut). It was always an awesome evening filled with great food, family and plenty of card games. I will always cherish those family gatherings at my Aunty Dora’s. I don’t remember gifts ever being a big part of our celebration. I am not saying there weren’t any, but it was certainly not the focus. It was about family and celebrating the birth of Jesus.

Roy Family Traditions:

When Tim and I were married, we agreed that we would spend Christmas Eve with my family and Christmas Day with his. This has always worked out well for both of us and we are blessed that both of our families are close enough that we never have to choose between the two. We have always attended a Christmas Eve service, but no longer go to midnight mass. Springs Church usually offers multiple service times, so we opt for an early service and then head home for a later dinner. Church is only an hour, but the service is always fantastic and you never quite know what to expect. Our church is far from traditional and the contemporary nature always makes the evening quite spectacular and really sets the tone for the entire Christmas experience. We leave filled with the spirit of Christmas and ready for an awesome evening of fun and festivities.

For many years, my mom and dad would host Christmas Eve dinner, but my mom and I would share the preparations and do much of it together. When she passed away in 1999, we carried on in much the same way, but I took over the roll of hosting. Over the years, we have scaled back on our menu and have stuck to the dishes we like the most. We have made some additions and removed a few items from our meal plan, but much of what we serve has remained the same. My dad was 63 when my mom passed away and he immediately took over the role of helping prepare Christmas Eve dinner. He even made mom’s Christmas cake for the first few years after her passing ~ what a trooper! Now almost 77, dad still prepares a good portion of the meal. He makes beet rolls (like cabbage rolls but made with beet leaves), sour cabbage rolls, cabbage rolls with tomato sauce, and he even made the perogies this year!

I make my Mom’s Borscht (so delicious!), fresh buns, fish, nalysnyky (Ukrainian Crepes), and creamed mushrooms. If I have beet leaves, I also make beetniks. These delicious little morsels are made by wrapping a beet leaf around bread dough. You bake it as you would a bun and then warm them in a whipping cream and onion sauce. To die for, seriously. I found a link to a recipe that looks pretty similar to what I do. I don’t actually have a recipe, but this gal’s post seems to be pretty much bang on. The only extra tip I have is that I always pop my leaves in the freezer. When you take them out and thaw them they are nicely wilted and much easier to wrap.

So, you can see we are down to about 9 or 10 dishes, depending on the year. Of course the meal is super delicious, but very rich and high in calories. Everything is either made with or served with butter and/or whipping cream sauce. In fact, if you count the cream sauce and the butter and onions we set on the table to smother our food with, I am sure you could make it up to the “12 dish” count! It is for this reason, that this meal is restricted to once a year. We indulge, until we bulge, and then restrain ourselves for another year.

We no longer have a traditional Christmas Eve dessert. Sometimes I make a fancy dessert and other times, we just eat Christmas baking. I do miss my mom’s incredible mince meat tarts with ice cream that were our traditional dessert when my mom was alive. I might give them a whirl one year, but I don’t know if I can find her recipe and they just wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t her recipe.

After dinner, the kids are allowed to open one gift from us (usually new PJ’s) and any gifts from my side of the family. I only have one brother and his family is not always able to join us, so sometimes it is just my dad and the four of us. My mom always had her heart and door open to those who didn’t have family to spend the holidays with and I too try to include anyone that is without family or a place to go. We are thrilled to extend the invitation to others, as no one should be alone at Christmas time.

Of course, it would not be a Wasslen Christmas with games. The evening usually ends very late after a few board games with the kids and a round or two of Canasta with the adults.

tastes of christmas

This is our traditional Ukrainian Christmas meal which we always have on Christmas Eve.

Nalysnyky Recipe:

6 eggs
2 teaspoon sugar
2 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
flour (enough to make a thin batter)

Using a non-stick pan, spoon a small amount of batter in the pan to form a thin crepe. (I tend to make my crepes about 3 to 4″ wide and about 6 to 7″ long ~ more rectangular in shape. I just find this works better for rolling and holding the filling). Cook until just beginning to brown. If your crepe is thin enough you will not need to fiddle with trying to flip it over as it will cook right through. I transfer the cooked crepes to wax paper and then stack them in layers. You can fill them as soon as they are cool enough to handle. You can also wrap the stacked crepes in cellophane and store them in the fridge until you are ready to fill them.

2 cups of dry cottage cheese
1 egg
1/4 cup of cream
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of sugar

Mix the filling ingredients in a bowl. Fill the crepes and roll them up. Place them in the bottom of a greased baking dish. Cover with cream sauce and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until bubbling.

Cream Sauce:

Dice a large onion (or more – you can never have too much onion) and sauté in a generous amount of  butter (about 1/2 cup?). Add about 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour and stir it in to soak up some of the butter.  Add 2 cups of whipping cream and about 1/4 cup of fresh dill.  Simmer until the sauce thickens.  Sauce should be a yellow colour.
This sauce is excellent served on beetniks, beet rolls, nalysnky or on perogies in lieu of sour cream.

This recipe is one of our favourites and is always a hit at potluck dinners. If you are bringing a dish to a family gathering this season, it is a guaranteed hit. I also love that you can make the crepes ahead of time and store them in the fridge until they need to be baked. Enjoy!

If you are interested in learning to blog, do not miss this opportunity to learn how the pros blog with a revolutionary new blogging platform.  Click here to learn more.