Her hometown is Mykolayi, Ukraine, population 500,000

Bill Vander Weele, Sidney Herald, Sidney, Montana, Tue, Dec 20, 2005

SIDNEY, Montana – Foreign exchange student Nina Kondratenko says celebrating holidays in the Ukraine is different than in the United States. When Nina Kondratenko celebrates Christmas this year, things will certainly be different for her – even the day she is accustomed to celebrate the holiday.

The foreign exchange student from Ukraine explains her native land celebrates the birth of Christ on Jan. 7. “Basically, your Christmas is celebrated like our New Year,” Kondratenko, a student at Sidney High School, said.

On Christmas Day in Ukraine, she explains 12 traditional recipes are brought to a person’s godfather’s and godmother’s house. Those sacred dishes include dumplings, cabbage rolls, dried fruits with honey in them and rice with dried grapes. “You have to have one bit of each one,” Kondratenko, who’s host parents are Don Jr. and DelRae Steinbeisser.

She also mentions that for the four weeks prior to Christmas individuals give up eating meat, egg or milk products. “Basically, you eat breads and soups (during the time before Christmas),” Kondratenko said. “On Christmas, you can start eating all of those things.”

Christmas caroling is also a great tradition in the Ukraine. “Everybody does it. It doesn’t depend on your age,” she said. At the houses where carolers sing, the owner of the house throws wheat at the singers. “Wheat represents that they want to bless you,” Kondratenko said.

Another tradition of Christmas caroling is having individuals dressed as a goat, three wisemen and a shepherd. “And they act out a little play that includes the Bible’s history of Christmas.”

She describes the Christmas Eve church service as “gorgeous” and says lilies are among the decorations in the church. She said congregation members listen carefully as the priest describes how Christ sacrificed his life.

There are five churches in Kondratenko’s home city of Mykolayi, a population of 500,000. Christian Orthodox is the dominant faith.

As far as the New Year’s celebration, families have New Year’s trees similar to the U.S. Christmas trees. They usually are up through January. “Homemade ornaments are really appreciated,” Kondratenko said. Presents are delivered from Father Frost of the North Pole. “It’s the same as Santa Claus, but he’s called another way.”

A huge tree is located in the center of the city where there is free ice cream, tea and coffee. There are also small presents for children offered there. “You can see fireworks from about 8 p.m. to 6 in the morning,” Kondratenko said. “They are wonderful.”

As midnight to bring in a new year hits, individuals can make a wish come true by writing a wish on a small piece of paper, burning it, putting it in a glass of champagne and then drinking it.

“You have to do all of that in the period of the 12 strikes (of the clock),” Kondratenko said. She explains a wish usually is for the good health of parents or others. “It’s like a wish to God,” Kondratenko said. -30-

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