Christmas Around the World: Ukraine and Poland

Two days ago, we continued this year's study of Christmas Around the World by exploring traditions in the Philippines, and I intended to continue yesterday with a look at Ukraine. However, I found myself overextended that day and evening, unable to pull together the appropriate resources and materials.

But I'd quickly realized in my earlier research that Ukraine and Poland - the country I'd intended for us to study today - share many Christmas customs. Thus, I determined to combine the two countries into one study today, even as I also went to great lengths to remind the girls that the cultures are not identical.



Besides Celebrate Christmas Around the World, I use the following resources in various ways:
  • Baboushka by Arthur Scholey
  • Christmas in Ukraine (World Book)
  • Christmas in Many Cultures by Martha E.H. Rustad
  • The Christmas Spider: A Puppet Play from Poland & Other Traditional Games, Crafts, and Activities by Loretta Holz
  • Countries of the World: Poland by Suzanne Paul Dell'Oro
  • Merry Christmas Everywhere! by Arlene Erlbach

In both countries, one of the most important Christmas symbols is the spider - of all things. This stems from a variety of legends, which are explained in some of the books I found. For example, Poles say that a spider wove Baby Jesus a blanket the night of his birth, and Ukranians tell the story of a poor widow who woke on Christmas Day to find her Christmas tree covered with spider webs that had turned to silver. Thus, it seemed most appropriate to make a simple spider craft, which I adapted from instructions found in Merry Christmas Everywhere!:
  • 1 piece of black construction paper for each child
  • scissors
  • glue
  • 1 pair of googly eyes for each child
  • 2 different sized circle templates (I simply used both sides of a Dixie cup.)
  • glitter glue, sequins, and other such decorations

  1. Use the templates to trace a circle for a spider body and another for a spider head;
  2. Cut out both circles and glue them together;
  3. Glue the googly eyes onto the head;
  4. Cut out eight (8) legs, each 1/2" wide and four (4) inches long;
  5. Fold each spider leg accordion-style;
  6. Glue the legs onto the spider's body, four on each side;
  7. Decorate the spider.

Other Activities:
We played the Geography Game for Europe from last year's curriculum.

In addition, though we didn't do this, it would be very easy and natural to add a short science lesson to this study by obtaining some books about spiders to read and discuss together. Afterwards, you could have each child write a narration about spiders.

I made a simple fruit compote using slightly modified directions from Christmas in Ukraine:
2 lbs. mixed dried fruit (apples, pears, prunes, apricots, raisins)
16 c. water
1 c. honey

Prepare this dish ahead of time to allow the flavors to blend.

Place dried fruit in a large saucepan. Add water and honey. Cover the pan and simmer the fruit mixture until fruit is soft. Allow compote to cool, then taste for sweetness. Serves 10-12.

We also had chicken and dumpling soup along with European-style noodles for lunch, though more authentic foods would have been real pierogi, Polish dumplings, and Polish sausage. And additions from Ukraine would have been kolach bread and the honey cake - medivnyk - we tried with our study of Russia last year.

Growing up in a Polish family, I also remember two distinct Christmas-time foods: czarnina (char-NEE-nah), a sweetened duck-blood soup (yes, it was as yucky to me as it sounds, though my grandmother's thick, homemade noodles - kluski - over which the soup was served were heavenly...and usually we kids were allowed to load up on noodles and skip the soup) and oplatek (o-PWA-tek), a "thin rectangular piece of bread" - similar in composition to a traditional Catholic Communion wafer, but much larger - "with the design of the nativity pressed into it" (Holz, 18). At extended family Christmas gatherings, we shared oplatek with each other in a type of bread-breaking ceremony before the meal. I would have liked to share that tradition with my children today, but I didn't know where to find oplatek here.

Language Arts:
Each girl continued her Christmas Around the World booklet, directions for which are available here under the Language Arts heading.


Photo Credits: cindy251978 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/cindyandmike/5235595925/) and evaritchie99 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/30001517@N07/5440155962/)

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