Culture and Customs
Although the expression of culture varies regionally within Ukraine, Ukrainian customs and traditions are tied to a strong sense of nationalism and Christianity. Ukraine became a Christian nation when Prince Volodymyr the Great accepted Christianity in 988. Ukrainian history is marked by oppression. As a result, all aspects of culture stress individual freedom and the preservation of one’s identity.
As previously stated, Ukrainian customs reflect Christian values. In rural Ukraine even traditional greetings have religious overtones. For example, upon meeting, one person greets another with, “Слава Ісусу Христу!!” or “Praise be to Jesus Christ!”, to which the response is, “Слава на віки”, in English “Glory forever!” During the Christmas season, one greets another with, “Христос народився” or ‘Christ is born!’ to which the response is, “Славімо Його” or “Let us glorify Him!” And at Easter the greeting and response are “Христос Воскрес!” meaning “ Christ is Risen” and “Воістину Воскрес!” which translates as “Indeed He has Risen”. Today, Ukrainians customarily greet each other with, ‘Добрий день’“Good day!” or “Привіт” “Greetings” at the workplace, on the street or in other public venues, with the religious greetings reserved for use in homes, at church or during other private functions. It is common for people of all ages to greet one another with a handshake. Hugs are frequently exchanged between family members or familiar acquaintances and often with three kisses on the cheeks.
The Ukrainian language has a long history and reflects many regional dialects and sub-dialects. After World War I, Ukrainian writers and authors attempted to establish some uniformity of language and produced books in literary Ukrainian. Because Ukraine has for most of its history been an occupied land and people, the occupiers of the time strived to both impose their language upon the people and to change the Ukrainian language by introducing grammatical and literary expressions of the occupier’s language. This has been most predominantly felt from the Russian influence (in some parts for over 300 years) as Ukrainian lands had been dominated by the Tsarist Russian Empire, and more recently, by the Soviet Union. The russification of the Ukrainian language and literature is quite evident today in Ukraine. Today, the Ukrainian language continues to evolve and includes many foreign expressions and terms, particularly English business and information technology terminology.
The children of the Ukrainian pioneers were bilingual. English was the language of school and education, commerce and communication of the country while Ukrainian was used at home, at church and at other public and private functions. Second and third generation children attained oral Ukrainian fluency at home while the reading and written skills were frequently acquired through attendance at Ukrainian School. These “shkoly” were held mainly during the summer school break in the rural regions while the larger urban centres could offer Saturday classes. Ukrainian was also a second language course available at many high schools or through correspondence. A successful Ukrainian-English Bilingual Program has been offered by the Saskatoon Catholic Board of Education since 1979, initially at St Goretti and now at Holy Family School. Both the Catholic and Public school board in Regina offer Ukrainian language Core programs and other such programs have existed in places like Yorkton, Canora and Hafford. Sadochoks or Ukrainian kindergartens can be found across Saskatchewan.
With more mixed marriages and/or lack of adequate opportunities for use, the Ukrainian language today tends to be used primarily by those of the older generations, although there is greater interest among the youth. Ukrainian tends to be used more in the larger urban centres because of the larger population base and greater cultural and linguistic activities available. The lower numbers of Ukrainian people in rural areas makes it more challenging to provide opportunities for the younger generation to practice and enhance the use of the Ukrainian language.
Holidays and Celebrations
On January 22, 1918, Ukrainians united, formed the Ukrainian National Republic and enjoyed their independence until 1923 when Ukraine once again came under foreign (Soviet Russian) control. This day of independence continues to be remembered and celebrated both in Ukraine and in Canada and Saskatchewan in a variety of ways.
On August 24, 1991, Ukraine finally achieved independence when the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, voted almost unanimously to unilaterally secede from the Soviet Union. This historic occasion and event is celebrated and recognized both in Ukraine and in Canada and Saskatchewan in a variety of formal and informal ways. UCC branches celebrate the occasion and those in Saskatoon, Yorkton, Canora, North Battleford and Regina organize special festivities.
Birthday of Taras Shevchenko
On March 9th, Ukrainians throughout the world pay tribute to one of the greatest poet and “prophets” of their history. Shevchenko’s writings are regarded as being largely responsible for the persistence and survival of Ukrainian nationalism and cultural continuity. Many communities in Ukraine, Canada and Saskatchewan continue to organize memorial performances and concerts in honour of Shevchenko even to this day.
Rizdvo / Christmas (07 January)
This celebration covers a number of important feast days and observances, beginning with the Pylypivka (Phillipian Fast) and culminating with the Feast of the Three Hierarchs on February 15th. Sviata Vecheria or Holy Supper on Christmas Eve traditionally consists of twelve meatless dishes prepared with vegetable shortening or cooking oil. The table is first strewn with a small amount of hay and then covered with a fine tablecloth. Decorated bread (the koliada) adorns the centre of the table, and symbolizes prosperity. An extra place is always set at the table, symbolizing departed family members. A didukh (traditionally the first sheaf of wheat cut at harvest time and symbolizing our ancestors) is placed in a corner of the house. A lighted candle is also placed in the window to show that a stranger or a lost soul is welcome in the home. Family members go to great efforts to be able to come home for Rizdvo and Sviata Vecheria.
After the meal, the family sings koliadky or Christmas carols and also visit. At midnight or on Christmas Day, the family attends a church service. Christmas celebrations extend over many days, during which time groups of carollers visit the homes to proclaim the Christmas event and message.
The Christmas season also includes Malanka (old New Year’s) and St. Basil’s Day, and Yordan. The Christmas greeting, “Khrystos narodyvsia! Christ is born!” with the response, “Slavimo Yoho! Let us glorify Him!” is used until the Feast of the Three Hierarchs. Carols are also sung in church and at home until this time.
Malanka (13 January)
This is the celebration of New Year’s Day as the western world knows and understands it. In the Ukrainian tradition, the celebrations centre around festivities known as “Malanka” which incorporate religious, folkloric and cultural elements. In Saskatchewan, Malanka activities typically include a meal, a program of events including enactments by mythological and folkloric characters, displays of Ukrainian dancing and singing, and a dance.
Yordan or Vodokhreshchia (19 January)
Ukrainians refer to this feast as Yordan / Theophany because it refers to the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. Many people refer to this feast as “Little Christmas” because the Holy Supper prepared for Christmas Eve is repeated at this time on the Eve of the Theophany on 18 January. One important part of this feast is the blessing of water by the priest during the church service celebrated either during the evening or on the feast day itself. In Ukraine, and in times past in Canada, the blessing of water would take place outdoors beside the church, or on a body of water such as a pond, stream or river if these were available. Special songs called Shchedrivky are sung at this time.
Velykden / Easter
Velykden / Easter (Pascha) is the greatest Christian celebration of the Christian year and calendar. It follows the forty-day Pist (pronounced peest) or Great Fast or Lent, and is a time of rejoicing and celebration. Passion Services are celebrated on Strasnyi chetver / Holy Thursday, Velykodnia piatnytsia / Good Friday and Holy Saturday. On Velykden, people attend the Resurrection Matins and Divine Liturgy. Decorated Easter baskets containing krashanky (coloured eggs), ham, beets with horse radish, cottage cheese, paska (Easter bread) and other foods (reflecting individual ancestral regions of Ukraine) are blessed by the priest. These are consumed at the Easter breakfast; this meal always begins with the eating of the krashanky, followed by the remaining courses.
Svitlyi tyzhden / Easter (Bright) Week is a happy and focused observance of the Resurrection. The Easter greeting, “Khrystos voskres! Christ is risen!” with the response, “Voistynu voskres! Indeed He is risen!” is used for forty days, until the feast of the Ascension. The usual church hymns and songs are substituted with Easter songs and hymns during this time. Pysanky (hand-painted Easter eggs) symbolize the coming of spring and the new life that Easter brings.
Education and Occupations
The first Ukrainian settlers to Saskatchewan were primarily farmers. Because the climatic and agricultural conditions in Saskatchewan were quite similar to those in western Ukraine, these people adapted quickly and easily to agrarian pursuits. Many of them became successful and prosperous grain and animal farmers, and even today continue to contribute in significant ways to the advancement and development of all facets of Saskatchewan’s agricultural enterprise.
In Ukraine, education was a symbol of status usually available only to the rich so higher education, both secondary and elementary, was very expensive. Education was extremely important to the first settlers. When they settled, the building of a church and the organizing of a school district were next in importance only to improving and clearing their land. While the bulk of the early immigrants had little or no education, they exemplified lifelong learning. Many of them acquired skills on their own initiative. Children were encouraged to attend school and receive as much education as they desired. As a result, academic achievement has always been a priority for Ukrainians.
The children of these immigrants entered the professions in significant numbers. One profession in which Ukrainians were highly represented was education. Many of Saskatchewan’s teachers and educational leaders were of Ukrainian ancestry. This trend continues until the present time, with Ukrainians represented in other major professions such as law, medicine, commerce and engineering.
Ukrainians also entered the trades, with many of these individuals establishing their own companies and enterprises. Ukrainians are well represented in all the skilled trades areas.
The majority of children of Ukrainian background pursue higher education and training at university, technical schools, business schools or other training institutions. Two student residences – Mohyla Institute and Sheptytsky Institute – are located in Saskatoon, and historically have served as residences for out-of-town students. They continue to provide this service until the present time. While these are Ukrainian student residences, they accommodate students of all backgrounds.
Many non-Ukrainians know about Ukrainians through cultural activities that they have participated in or observed. These typically take the form of dancing, choirs and public events.
Ukrainian dancing is very popular in Saskatchewan. There are many active amateur dance groups in the province, varying in size from very small groups to those with a large membership. Besides performing for local events, these groups participate in competitions in the larger centres each spring. Many of the groups travel out-of-province for competitions as well. These dance groups are frequently included in local programs of celebration and important events.
Saskatchewan boasts many professional-calibre Ukrainian dance troupes: Yevshan Ukrainian Folk Ballet Ensemble and Pavlychenko Folklorique Ensemble in Saskatoon; Tavria, Regina Ukrainian Dance Ensemble and Zapovit in Regina and many others in communities throughout the province. Many of the dancers at all levels are non-Ukrainian, particularly in the smaller rural centres. There are even adult dance groups; the Holoska Dancers, in Melfort, Zorya in North Battleford and the Canora Adult Ukrainian Dancers.
Ukrainian people love to sing, and they are renowned for their choirs. These exist in Saskatchewan as well but tend primarily to be church choirs. At the present time, Lastiwka, a youth choir, is active in Saskatoon, and the Veseli Singers, a community choir, is active in Prince Albert. In Regina there is the Regina Ukrainian Folk Choir sponsored by the Regina Ukrainian Professional and Business Association. In addition to these choirs, there are many active church choirs.
There are a number of public events and celebrations that happen in Saskatchewan each year. In the spring Ukrainian festivals are held each year at Prince Albert and Foam Lake while Saskatoon’s Vesna Festival has been held since 1974. Regina’s Ukrainian community participates in the annual Mosaic multicultural festival. In the summer, Saskatoon’s Ukrainian community provides two venues at Folkfest, an annual multicultural festival, which is followed by the annual Ukrainian Day in the Park festival which celebrates Ukraine’s independence in the latter part of August. In the fall, Prince Albert holds an annual multicultural fair in which the Ukrainian community participates and Moose Jaw’s Ukrainian community hosts a booth at their city’s Motif festival.
Because of their sizeable population in Saskatchewan, Ukrainians have many well-established organizations which allow them to celebrate and promote their culture. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Saskatchewan Provincial Council (UCC-SPC) has its headquarters in Saskatoon. There are several branches of this organization in other centres in Saskatchewan. UCC-SPC is an umbrella organization which serves as a voice for the Ukrainian community, lobbies government and related agencies in matters of importance to the Ukrainian community, and sponsors and supports a variety of cultural events and activities.
Prairie Centre for the Study of Ukrainian Heritage
The Prairie Centre for the Study of Ukrainian Heritage (PCUH) was created in 1998. This program is housed at St. Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon. PCUH is supported by the Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox communities of Saskatchewan, and St. Thomas More College. The Centre focuses on the study and preservation of the history of the Ukrainian people of western Canada. The program offers Ukrainian language courses and courses in Ukrainian history and religion.
Eaton Memorial Project
Saskatchewan was home to one interment camp during the World War I period. The camp was located near Pike Lake, just out of Saskatoon. While it was open for a short period of time only, it is nonetheless linked to this tragic aspect of Canada’s history. This project entails the creation, unveiling and dedication of a memorial marker at the site in the fall of 2003. This project is part of a larger effort by the Canadian Ukrainian community to have the federal government acknowledge responsibility for this tragedy, and to offer an apology to the Canadian Ukrainian community.
Ukraine Genocide-Famine of 1932-33
The national government in Ukraine has declared the fourth Sunday in November as a day of remembrance and observance of the forced famine imposed by the Communist regime of Joseph Stalin. The Ukrainian community in Canada has joined in the commemoration of this historic tragedy in Ukraine’s history. Many local communities in Saskatchewan hold memorial services in their churches, sponsor rallies and parades, and mark the occasion in other ways. For more information on these commemorations, please continue to visit our web site.
Saskatchewan Ukrainian Historical Society
This exciting new initiative will assist UCC-SPC to meet community interest in family and community history as well as in the role that Ukrainians have played in the development of our province. Local history, genealogy, the story of migration and settlement, the study of material culture, the development of unique Saskatchewan-
Ukrainian cultural expressions, labour history, the women’s movement, the history of agriculture are but a few areas which the society will explore. SUHS’s goal is to complement the work of existing Ukrainian community institutions like our three community-driven Ukrainian museums and the Prairie Centre for the Study of Ukrainian Heritage.
The objectives of SUHS are to:
• encourage amateur historians and genealogists as well as community members to facilitate the preservation and sharing of Ukrainian aspects of Saskatchewan’s history;
• introduce to a wider public the history of Ukrainian settlement in Saskatchewan;
• allow UCC-SPC to better meet community needs;
• provide a venue for community members to gather and share information related to family and community histories;
• enable joint activities between youth and seniors;
• provide an avenue for Saskatchewan citizens to become involved in the organized Ukrainian community; and
• build a lasting legacy for the 2005 Provincial Centenary.
SUHS will enable those interested in all facets of Saskatchewan’s Ukrainian past to work together, share ideas and projects, mentor each other or see some of their work and research published in print and/or on the Internet. Annual conferences, seminars and workshops would be organized as well. Through this initiative UCC-SPC will plant the seeds with the expectation that SUHS and the Saskatchewan people can harvest a great database of information, facts, stories and images. This will be a natural and appropriate link to the 2005 celebrations of Saskatchewan’s Centennial.