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The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ - Christmas Preparation for the Holy Eve Supper in anticipation of Christ’s Birth Holy Eve Components and their Symbolism

Posted on: December 10th, 2019

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ - Christmas
Preparation for the Holy Eve Supper in anticipation of Christ’s Birth
Holy Eve Components and their Symbolism

1. The didukh* – a sheaf or a bundle of wheat and/or rye, is a symbol of our livelihood and of our ancestors, whose wisdom and spirit are present in the Christian faith which they have passed on to succeeding generations. On Christmas Eve we thank God for the food and shelter we were able to provide with His help in the past and ask for the same in the year ahead. During prayers we will also invite our ancestors to the Holy Eve Supper.

2. Inclusion of the absent loved ones
There are times that close members of the family cannot be present at this event due to distance or illness or other circumstances. We remember them by their name in the introduction to the feast. Anyone at the table can add the name of a person (living or deceased) to be remembered. By inviting our ancestors to the Holy Eve Supper we recognize that they all continue to be part of our family, whether or not we knew them in life. Together with us they celebrate God’s love for all humanity, the Creator becoming a helpless God Child to restore humanity to its full dignity and honor.

3. Prayers* – the Christmas Tropar and “God Eternal” are sung.
The festal hymns honoring the Nativity of Our Lord will be repeated in the Great Compline, the Divine Liturgy and other services. Their poetry brings the feast into focus.
4. Prosphora is leavened bread blessed for the Holy Eve Supper. It probably is an earlier custom and not shared by all. It is like the antidoron, the unconsecrated bread distributed to the faithful at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy.
Before the Holy Eve Supper the prosphora is cut into enough pieces* to share with everyone at the festal table. Spread with honey, symbol of sweetness of God’s gifts, it reminds us of Christ feeding the multitude. As the father offers each person present a piece of prosphora they exchanges a kiss of peace, right-left-right, on the cheek and embrace, to complete this greeting. This is often done during the singing of God Eternal.
*A piece of prosphora is placed on the plate for the absent and deceased. The same is done with bits of each subsequent dish as it is served.
5. Kutia – parboiled wheat with honey and poppy seed is a symbol of regeneration and transfiguration, and is the last dish served. The rich symbolism attached to the kutia made it a sacred and obligatory part of the Holy Eve Supper from earliest times. . It was also called kolyvo when served at wakes. The themes of life and death, the unification of the living with the deceased, permeate this celebration of Christ’s birth and restoration of humanity.
Honey – symbolizes the sweetness of God’s gifts. The parboiled wheat together with honey was offered to the catechumens, who observed strict fast and were baptized on Christmas day.
Poppy seed – ground to smooth paste, symbolizes martyrdom and the shedding of innocent blood. Martyrdom became the seed of growing faith (John 12:24). Poppy seeds are blessed on the feast of Transfiguration and symbolize the infinite multiplication of God’s grace, which we receive through the Eucharist.
6. Garlic: 4 heads (optional)
A head of garlic placed on each table corner under the tablecloth represents purification and good health. It is also a symbol of family unity – the members holding together as do the cloves in the head.
7. Carols: to start and intersperse the meal, and to close the evening home celebration. Carols are songs of praise and worship of God becoming Man to save the humankind.

8. The Festal Table
The table is the gathering place, symbolic of community. It is an intergenerational meeting place, a place for listening and offering mutual understanding and a place for sharing God’s gifts. The altar in the church and the table at home have in common the desire to have Christ in their midst, to unite around Him in this agape celebration. At the Holy Eve Supper Christ is the guest of honor.

Three round kalachi stacked on top of the other with a candle in its center dominate the table. They remind us of the Holy Trinity, three Persons, but One God symbolized by the candle.
Borshch – symbol of the great fast. Its red color reminds of the death of the Innocents.

Several dishes of fish – during early Christianity, the fish was the secret symbol of Christ and the Church.

All other vegetable and fruit dishes remind us the wealth of simple gifts of the earth. Even though the supper is meat and dairy free, these inventively prepared foods give a foretaste of the big feast to come and the real rewards of the Eternal Banquet.

9. The Holy Supper Opening Rituals
The rituals observed during the Holy Supper vary from region to region and even household to household. Those presented in the All-Ages Opening Experience are the ones most basic and essential to the celebration, but participants should realize, that they may tailor the procedure to meet their specific circumstances. Some suggestions are listed here:
a. Place photographs of departed members of the family in the Icon Corner.
b. An alternate opening: If there are children in the house, they might be given an active role in the opening ritual. The Holy Eve can start with a small procession. One child can lead with a lighted candle – the Light of the world, followed by another with an icon of the Nativity, and still another might carry the star – as of Bethlehem, followed by the head of the household with the didukh. All these come to rest close to the icons in an area near the table.

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