There are two schools of thought on the cultural ancestry question: one view holds that it’s important to maintain a strong cultural connection to our ancestry and that the deep spirit of our ancestors lives within is, the other view sees this all simply as mythology that we perpetuate for our own comfort, and that simple genetic relationship to those from the old country has no practical connection to our modern lives.
I have a foot in each camp. On one hand it seems absurd for a Scots-Irish-Ukrainian-Croat like me to feel any connection to the cultures that were home to my grandparents (or their parents, or their parents). On the other hand, it’s hard not to feel connected to each of those home cultures in some way, especially the Croatian and Ukrainian one that are so unlike my day-to-day existence.
Which is how we ended up at the Ukrianian Christmas Dinner here in Charlottetown with Catherine and Oliver.
Having been a victim of untold multicultural days in my youth, wherein we would traipse from church to church sample the food, music, dance and gaily painted crafts of the the immigrant cultures, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect from the Ukrainian diaspora in Charlottetown.
It turned out to be a fairly sedate affair, run like clockwork: we sat, we ate, we watched slides, we went home. The diners at our table — there was assigned seating — were a mixture of the curious (two sisters from Parkdale at their first Ukrainian event ever) and the Ukrainian (a man from out west with Ukrainian parents who’d married an Islander). Looking around the room it seemed this was as typical mix. And there was also Leo Cheverie, of course.
The eating was central to the event, and there was a full buffet of Ukrainian delights:
It was generally agreed that low point of the menu was the kutia, a mixture of wheat, honey, poppy seeds and raisins that tasted like sweet cardboard. It was the only bowl that didn’t get polished off at the buffet:
There were two types of pyrohy (perogies) on offer, sauerkraut and cheese; both were serviceable although, of course, nowhere near like my Nana and Baba used to make:
In addition there was pickled herring (quite tasty, although I prefer the bold Swedish I had last summer), pickles, beet soup, cabbage rolls, jellied fish, sauerkraut and peas, and mushroom sauce. The Ukrainians obviously don’t go for the bold flavours: it was an off-white coloured meal, well-prepared, but unlikely to blow your socks off. You can’t choose the food of your ancestors, alas.
The dessert table was overflowing with tasty delights: strudel, several different cakes, a fruit compote and khrustyky (which was much smaller than my Nana’s — the size of a stubby pencil where Nana’s were the size of a pinwheel):
After the plates were cleared away Sharon Labchuk presented a slide show on her travels Ukraine this summer, which was very interesting. Her family (and, she said, most Ukrainian Canadians) is from the same region as my great-grandparents, in Western Ukraine, so it was nice to get a photographic feel for the area.
CBC Radio One reporter Nancy Russell prepared piece about the event for Island Morning.