Russian Christmas Eve Supper (Holy Supper)

Following 40 days of Nativity Lent, the birth of Jesus Christ is commemorated with a final Lenten feast on 6th January (Old Calendar).

There are several symbolic features to the dinner table, including the placing of hay under the tablecloth in memory of the manger in which the Holy Child was placed by His Mother at His birth. Some grain is also thrown in the straw to represent the abundance of Christ’s Coming. The linen tablecloth represents the birth clothes Christ was wrapped.

The Supper usually consists of 12 courses, symbolic of the 12 Apostles. The twelve fasting foods usually served are: barley, honey, stewed prunes, pierogi, sauerkraut, potatoes, lima beans, garlic, Lenten bread, mushroom soup and salt. Reminders that life is both bitter and sweet and that the work of each day throughout the current year was required to truly celebrate Christ's Coming.

The Holy Supper
The meal begins with the singing of the Christmas troparion and the lighting of a candle placed in the center of the table. The candle symbolizes the star of Bethlehem.

The Holy Supper usually takes place in the home with the father leading the family in the prayer ritual. It begins with the youngest child reading the Nativity account from the Gospel of St. Matthew 2:1-12. The father then starts with an opening prayer asking God to bless the bread, wine, and food. He then breaks the bread and passes it out to all present. This symbolizes Christ at the Last Supper.

The supper begins with a spoonful of the traditional Kutya, a cooked wheat or barley kasha, sweetened with honey, poppy seeds and chopped nuts – symbolic of joy and happiness.

An extra place is always set at the table for Jesus, either in Spirit, or in the form of a traveller or stranger, for none are turned away on this day without a warm invitation to partake of this Holy Supper.

If there is a priest present the prayers are lead by him instead of the father.

The Prayers & ceremony
Priest: O Lord Jesus Christ our God, Who blessed the five loaves in the wilderness and with them You satisfied the five thousand, bless this loaf, wine, and the food we are about to eat and multiply them in this city, and in all the world, and sanctify all the faithful who partake of them. For it is You, O Christ our God, Who bless and sanctify all things, and to You we ascribe glory, together with Your Father, Who is without beginning, and Your all-holy, and good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.

People: Amen. Honey is placed on the forehead with the words:

All: May we love one another as the bee loves honey. The cup of wine in passed around for each to drink.

All: Unite us in Faith and Love. Bread is broken and passed to all. It is then dipped into the honey and eaten:

All: Let us love one another. Garlic is eaten – not pealed but cracked with the teeth.

All: May God Spare us from all Evil. The twelve Lenten foods are eaten without knives or pepper. Pepper symbolizes arguments and knives the cutting of friendship

Closing Prayer: May He who was born in a cavern and lay in a manger for our salvation Christ our true God, through the prayers of the Holy Theotokos, of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke and of all the saints have mercy on and save us for He is good and loves mankind.

People: Amen

After Supper, the candle is blown out gently and if the smoke rises straight up it means a blessing for the year. It is traditional for all to attend a Vesper Service following which the choir may begin visiting homes to sing Christmas Carols.

Traditional Foods Served
The foods range from bitter to sweet to remind us of the bitterness of life before Christ was born and the sweetness of life which comes after His birth. The number 12 symbolizes the twelve apostles.

Two may be chosen from each category – except soup.

Appetizers: lkra (caviar), Kutya, Pick-led Mushrooms, Piroshki (with mushroom or sauerkraut filling), Herring (with beet and onion slices), Baklazhan (eggplant caviar).

Soup: Mushroom, Barley, Fish (with dumplings), Borscht, Cabbage, Vegetable.

Fish dishes: Baked Pike, Trout or other, Fried Filet of Sole or Bluefish, Fish in Aspic, Stuffed Carp, Fishcakes, Fried Smelts, Boiled Lobster.

Vegetable dishes: Potato Pancakes, Boiled Potato (with dill), Baked Sauer-kraut, Baked Sliced Beets, Potato Salad (with beets), Cauliflower (with bread crumbs and margarine topping), Lenten Cabbage Rolls, Pickled Baked Cabbage, "Malosolniyeh" Pickles (freshly dilled).

Fruit & cake: Dried-fruit Compote, Cherry or Blueberry Vareniki, Poppy seed Cake or Roll. Nut Pudding, Apple Strudel, Kissel, Fruit Rolls.

Beverages: Wine, Kvass, Russian Tea (served with preserves and lemon slices)


1 cup wheat
2 cups water
1 cup honey
3 Tbsp poppy seeds
½ cup chopped nuts

Soak wheat in 2 cups of water for 4 hours. Cook until desired tenderness. Meanwhile, cook honey with water and add poppy seeds; add nuts. Serve cold with the wheat.

1 eggplant
2 chopped green peppers
4 onions
4 Tbsp oil
2 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp pepper
2 Large tomatoes

Bake eggplant at 450° until soft to the touch. Remove skin, chop pulp almost to a puree. Fry onions in oil until soft; stir in chopped green peppers and fry 6 min. longer. Skin tomatoes and chop coarsely; add to onions. Add eggplant and all seasoning. Cook uncovered until mixture is thick enough to spread. Chill until ready to serve on black pumpernickel or sesame crackers.

Lenten Golubtzi
1 cup rice
1 cup mushrooms
2 cans tomatoes, strained
3 stalks celery
1 head cabbage
1 can tomato soup
1 clove minced garlic
2 green peppers
2 Large onions
2 tsp minced dill
3 Tbsp cooking oil
salt & pepper to taste

Cook rice until thick. Fry garlic, peppers, 1 onion (minced), 1 celery stalk (chopped finely) and sliced mushrooms in oil. Add to rice and mix well; add seasoning and tomatoes -- but save the liquid. Boil cabbage until leaves can be separated without breaking. Cut raised center vein of each leaf so it will be no thicker than most of leaf. Place about 2 Tbsp of filling in stem end of leaf; roll once, then fold in sides of leaf and con-tinue to roll rest of way. Use all the larger leaves and save the too-small ones to line bottom of roaster. Place Golubtzi in layers, then add the can of tomato soup, the liquid from the canned tomatoes and the other onion, minced, as well as the other 2 stalks of celery, chopped finely; salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 2 hours in a covered roaster in a moderate oven, about 350°.

Fish Fillet With Peppers
1 ½ lbs fish fillet
1 Tbsp flour
1 onion
½ cup oil
1 green pepper
2 tomatoes
salt & pepper

Season fish with salt and pepper, and dip in flour. Fry in oil until golden. Add chopped onion and thin strips of pepper and fry until soft. Add skinned and chopped tomatoes, cover and simmer for 10 min. Thicken sauce with remaining flour and serve.

Dilled Fried Potatoes
Boil unpeeled potatoes in salted water. Add a clove of garlic to water. Cool, peel and cut potatoes into large cubes. Slice 2 onions and fry in oil until lightly browned -- then add potatoes, salt and pepper and fry until warmed through and browned. Sprinkle with finely minced dill and serve.

Noodles and Cabbage
4 cups cabbage shredded finely
1 Tbsp salt
½ cup butter or margarine
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp pepper
4 cups broad noodles cooked and drained

Mix cabbage and salt together and let stand 30 minutes. Squeeze out all the liquid. Heat butter or margarine in deep skillet; add cabbage, sugar and pepper. Cook over low heat until cabbage is done, stirring very frequently. Add noodles and toss to blend.

Dried Fruit Compote
Simmer any combination of dried fruit, such as apples, pears, raisins, peaches and apricots in enough water to cover. Add water as needed during cooking, until all fruit is soft and tender. Add sugar to taste and about a one-inch stick of cinnamon; add a strip of lemon rind. If cinnamon is unavailable, a pinch of ground cinnamon may be used. May be served hot or cold, as preferred.

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this in depth explanation of the symbols and process.