Sviatki or Sviata Vechera
Translated as "Holy Supper," this was celebrated in Russia, Ukraine, and other Slavic countries on Jan. 6 for at least the last 500 years and likely much longer. It is roughly equivalent to Christmas Eve.
Rather than a recognition of Christ's birth, Sviatki was a day of rituals and divination to guard against evil spirits and misfortune, and to bring good health and good fortune to the family for the year.
A traditional Russian household could range from 50 to 200 people, considering the three or four generations, servants, etc. In preparation for this meal, the household would fast all day. The Domestroi emphasizes a neat, orderly house for such celebrations. Although the tone of the event was more of dignity than celebration, everyone wore their most festive clothing. The tables were strewn with hay, to encourage fertility, and sheaves of wheat were displayed, to signify an abundant harvest.
There were several standard ceremonies. The first consisted of the children sighting the first star of the evening. Then the male head of the house would offer kut'ia (a porridge or flummery of wheat kernels, honey, and poppyseeds) to the dead ancestors and to the forces of nature and ask them to protect the family for the next year. Next would be the communal sharing of the kolach, a rich egg bread; the head of the household would offer a piece of this bread, along with honey and salt, to each person in the household. After the meal, he would offer the remaining kut'ia to the barn animals and ask for their protection and health.
There were numerous other rituals of singing and dancing, most to insure a good harvest or to divine who the young girls should marry.
The menu differed regionally. There were generally 12 dishes served, but there was no set order of presentation. Many of the dishes were believed to have magical or religious significance. Beverages were generally tea with tea with lemon, orange, cloves, and cinnamon, horilka, or vodka. Dishes included numerous roasted animals and birds, vushka (pies with meat filling), vareyky or piroshki (dumplings with mushroom filling), buckwheat pancakes, sausage, marinated/dried/steamed/pickled fish, cabbage, beet soup, nuts, dried fruit, pashka (cheesecake), and doughnuts.
The Domestroi, 16th Century guide to running a Muskovite household
Christmas in Russia, NTC Publishing Group, Chicago, 1993
©1998 Chris P. Adler