This Ukrainian family in B.C. is marking Christmas with new traditions

Roman and Anna Bilets (far left) invited Brian and Linda Stuckert (third and fourth from left) to a Ukrainian holy supper. Anna and her kids, Olenka and Roman (far right), stayed with the Stuckerts when they first arrived in Canada. (Submitted by Anna Bilets - image credit)
Roman and Anna Bilets (far left) invited Brian and Linda Stuckert (third and fourth from left) to a Ukrainian holy supper. Anna and her kids, Olenka and Roman (far right), stayed with the Stuckerts when they first arrived in Canada. (Submitted by Anna Bilets - image credit)

For the first time in her life, Anna Bilets celebrated Christmas on Dec. 25.

She came to B.C. from Ukraine last June together with her son, Roman, and daughter, Olenka, fleeing the ongoing invasion of her home country by Russia.

On Christmas Day last year, she shared her family's longstanding traditions with new friends in Canada, and adopted a few Canadian customs along the way.

"For centuries, Ukrainians celebrated Christmas on the seventh of January because they follow the Julian calendar," Bilets said.

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"This is the first time we had to adjust to Canada ... but I think it was really easy to do that."

Since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, Bilets says the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has allowed members to mark the holiday in December rather than January, as part of a push by Ukrainians to distance themselves from traditions shared with Russia.

Giving back

Bilets, who now lives in Vancouver, says she wanted to return some of the hospitality to the couple who hosted her and her children when they first arrived.

Linda and Brian Stuckert of Port Coquitlam, about 30 kilometres east of Vancouver, have become "a second family," she says, and they've all stayed close after her husband — also named Roman — arrived in November and they started renting their own place.

"We decided to invited them to our holy supper and to share the experience, how we celebrate Christmas in Ukraine," she said.

"After, we went to church. There was a Christmas concert."

Submitted by Anna Belits
Submitted by Anna Belits

The Bilets family prepared 12 traditional Ukrainian dishes for their friends, and also tried some new things over the holidays: eating Christmas turkey for the first time and making Christmas cookies.

Bilets says her mother and sister are still in Ukraine, and that it was tough for the family to see her mother alone. They all used to live in the same house and mark the occasion together.

"It wasn't the same Christmas mood as we used to have. Russian missiles keep striking every day," she said.

"We were lucky that there was electricity in Ukraine and we were able to [video] call her."

Whether it's a wish for Christmas or the New Year, Bilets says Ukrainians across the world all want the same thing: to live in peace.

She also thinks the shift to celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25 will continue to grow.

"I think that Ukraine, maybe next year, they will all follow this calendar," she said.

"A lot of people support this idea."