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CHRISTMAS TODAY AND YESTERDAY

Old Ruthenian ritual

CURATOR of the Andy Warhol Museum in Michalovce, Michal Bycko, comes from the northeastern region where the Ruthenian minority forms a significant part of the population. He was raised in the picturesque village of Zbudská Belá and his family celebrated a traditional orthodox Christmas.
"The traditional Ruthenian Christmas was a ritual. In the evening the oldest member of the family started the celebration by calling everybody to follow him to a spring. There, we all washed our hands and faces. Then we went to our farm to give thanks to the animals, from which we earned our living, by feeding them with bread.


RUTHENIAN Michal Bycko.
photo: Courtesy of Michal Bycko

CURATOR of the Andy Warhol Museum in Michalovce, Michal Bycko, comes from the northeastern region where the Ruthenian minority forms a significant part of the population. He was raised in the picturesque village of Zbudská Belá and his family celebrated a traditional orthodox Christmas.

"The traditional Ruthenian Christmas was a ritual. In the evening the oldest member of the family started the celebration by calling everybody to follow him to a spring. There, we all washed our hands and faces. Then we went to our farm to give thanks to the animals, from which we earned our living, by feeding them with bread.

From there, we went back to the house, where one of the members of the family (usually the wife) had stayed. We all greeted her with 'Christos raždajet sa' ['Jesus Christ was born'] and she replied 'Slavite jeho' ['Celebrate him']. Then we all sat down at the table, which was surrounded by a chain, and on which honey, bread and garlic were laid.

"Why? The honey symbolized good and understanding, the bread life, garlic health, and the chain was a reminder that the family had stayed together. If somebody in the family had died that year, there was a chair and a plate prepared for him at the table.

"First, everybody prayed. Then the head of the family gave his speech and then we ate. After honey, bread and garlic, kapustnica followed - but without sausage as we still fasted - then hríbová mačanka [mushroom sauce], pirohy s kapustou [boiled dumplings with cabbage] and at the end bobaľky s makom [baked damper bread with poppy seeds].

"Then we sat at the table, talked and waited for koľadnykov [carol singers], while eating makovník [poppy seed strudel] and drinking slivovica."

Bycko also remembers his parents bringing a wisp of straw into the room in which the children slept. It symbolised the place where Jesus was born. And when he was young he believed the words of the old men to be true that at midnight the water in the village's spring turned into wine.

"As teenagers, we tried to drink it, but it did not cheer us up. Instead of a hangover, we ended up stuffed with cold water."

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