“Sviata Vecherya.” Just the mention of the traditional, 12-course, meatless Christmas Eve meal enjoyed by Ukrainian Catholics and Orthodox worldwide, evokes warm memories of familial gatherings. For many, this culturally rich Holy Supper is the central highlight of Christmas (Rizdvo). In reality, though, it is only the beginning.

The true “main course” of the celebration of the birth of Jesus is liturgical and takes place in church. There, after the Holy Supper we join our Christian family for the Christmas Vigil: Povecherie (evening service), Matins and Divine Liturgy.

How many of us get to church on Christmas Eve to welcome the Christ Child as a community and hear at Vigil the musical dialogue between priest and choir announcing the joyous news that “God is With Us” (z namy Boh!)? After the Holy Supper, are you too tired from cooking, too full from feasting or too tipsy to attend services?

The beautiful cultural practices of Ukrainian Christmas traditions are important to observe. Yet, it is critical that we do not divorce cultural practices from the liturgical. If we focus mainly on the Holy Supper, then we are on the slippery slope of taking Christ out of Christmas.

Sanctifying your Holy Supper with prayer and Sacred Tradition can help prevent the creeping secularization of Christmas. Start the meal by praying and singing the Nativity Tropar and Boh Predvichnyj. Include the departed in your family by setting an extra plate at the table and place food on it in their remembrance. Sing Christmas carols between courses or ask children to read the Nativity Story to emphasize that this meal is not a regular party, but the prologue to the main event.

Iryna Galadza is Director of the Toronto Eparchy Catechetical Resource Centre, a teacher, mother, grandmother, and wife of Mitred Archpriest Roman Galadza, pastor of St. Elias Church, in Brampton, Ontario.