Merry Ukrainian Christmas Day! Technically I should say “Merry Orthodox Christmas Day!,” but growing up with always called it Ukrainian Christmas so there you go.
The majority of people celebrate Christmas on December 25, the date according to the Julian calendar, but Orthodox Christians celebrate according to the Gregorian calendar, with Christmas Day being January 7—which is today!
Fun Fact: Did you know most people think the 12 days of Christmas refer to the 12 days preceding Julian calendar Christmas of December 25, when it actually refers to the 12 days post-December 25 through Epiphany on January 6!
I was not raised in an Orthodox church though my parents’ growing up and extended family all did/do—Ukrainian Orthodox to be specific, as our heritage is Ukrainian.
I LOVED growing up with two Christmases! We did typical Christmas celebrations on December 24-25 and then had second Christmas, Ukrainian Christmas, on January 6-7 annually. Ukrainian Christmas was always much more subdued. No commercialization, crazy twinkle light displays, excess presents, etc. Instead we enjoyed a family feast on Christmas Eve and often were visited by Saint Nicholas (St. Nick), the patron saint of Russia.
I love the symbolism is a traditional Ukrainian Christmas (though we don’t observe all the traditions like those in the Orthodox Church), but our table was covered with a white tablecloth symbolizing the purity of the cloth baby Jesus was swaddled in and scattered with wheat stalks for good fortune, a good harvest, and love. The tablecloth was beautiful cross-stitched with Ukrainian designs by great-great relatives. Candles were light representing the light of Christ and an extra place was set for those who may need it (like more room at the Inn).
Traditionally people have been fasting, and celebrate Epiphany by ending the fast with a feast surrounded by family and friends. We’re here for the feast!
The feast is traditionally meatless and dairy-free, so you know I’m on-board. All the dishes are classic Ukrainian and DELICIOUS! Seriously my favorite meal of the year. Some of the dishes/my favorites include:
Kolach - braided Christmas bread) Kutia - boiled wheat mixed with poppy seeds and honey Borscht - beet root soup Pierogi - potato-filled dumplings Holubtsi - cabbage and rice rolls Nalysnyky - sweet mini crepes Poppyseed Chiffon Cake or Poppyseed Roll (gotta have ‘em poppyseeds)
So not the lightest meal ever, but definitely the tastiest!
Unfortunately with my family being so spread across the U.S this year we didn’t get the traditional Christmas Eve meal. It’s honestly a TON of work when it just is two of us. Many of the dishes are easiest when you have an assembly line happening.
But we captured the spirit of the holiday by enjoying the same flavors, just in simpler forms. For example, I didn’t have my bundt cake pan handy to make the Poppyseed Chiffon cake so I whipped out some Gluten-Free, Vegan Poppyseed Roll cookies instead! (Remember we’re observing #veganuary this year)
Each cookie is soft, but crunchy. Sweet enough to satisfy that sweet tooth and yet light enough to not feel like you blow your New Year’s Fitness Resolutions. :)
This style cookie is also known as rugelach, made in the form of a crescent by rolling a triangle of dough around a filling. The word is Yiddish, but was perfect for my simple take on a Ukrainian Christmas Poppyseed Roll.
I tried a roll-style cookie, but it ended up spreading too much when I baked it so rugelach-style it was!
The cream cheese dough was adopted from a kolach recipe (I know I'm throwing up 1 billion new words, sorry), essentially the Polish version of rugelach but folded differently and uses cream cheese instead of yeast—vegan cream cheese that is!
Poppy Seeds are nutty yet sweet and always, to me at least, irresistible! They are also rich is calcium, fiber and magnesium. Small spice-size containers can be found in the spice section of grocery stores while it’s more cost effective to buy in bulk from retailers like Whole Foods.
I found a can of poppyseed spread at Wegman’s last week which initially prompted this recipe—ingredients only included corn syrup, poppyseeds, sugar, water, corn starch, salt and vanilla! You can make the filling yourself but I love a good time saver.
Gluten-Free, Vegan Poppyseed Roll Cookies are also AMAZING with a cup of tea.
Gluten-Free, Vegan Poppyseed Roll Cookies
- 1 cup vegan butter substitute (I use Earth Balance), room temperature
- 1 (8 oz) container of Tofutti cream cheese, or vegan cream cheese alternative of choice, room temperature
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 cups all-purpose, gluten-free flour
- 1 (12.5 oz) can of Poppy Seed Cake * Pastry Filling
- 2 tbsp almond milk, or alternative milk of choice Powdered sugar
- In bowl of stand mixer, cream butter and cream cheese together.
- Add granulated sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt. Beat until well combined.
- Beat in flour by the 1/2 cup until well combined. The dough will still be sticky.
- Shape the bowl into a ball and divide into four portions.
- Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill in fridge for at least 1 hour.
- In the meantime, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- Lightly flour your rolling pin. One portion at a time, roll out each ball on a lightly floured surface to until a roughly 9-inch circle is formed. The dough my rip a bit, just form it back together if it does.
- Spread 1/4 of the poppyseed spread onto the dough circle, leaving 1/4-inch uncovered at the edge.
- Use a knife or pizza cutter, cut the circle into 12 wedges (like a pizza).
- Starting at the wide edge of each slice, roll each wedge up to the center to form a crescent roll shape. Repeat with each ball and each wedge.
- Place the crescents on the prepared baking sheet, roughly 1-inch apart.
- Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
- With 10 minutes left in the chill hour, preheat oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit.
- Add the milk to a small bowl and brush each crescent lightly.
- Bake 18-20 minutes until lightly golden browned.
- Transfer to wire rack and allow to cool completely.
- Lightly coat by sifting powdered sugar.