How One Ukrainian Designer Celebrates Orthodox Christmas

Bevza explains that while she has been celebrating the holiday for “forever,” it was officially forbidden during Josef Stalin’s rule of the Soviet Union. But in the 21st century, Bevza and her family take great pride in the traditions. On the night of the 6th, Bevza celebrates Sviata Vecheria, or rather, the holy dinner, which starts when the first star in the sky appears. Bevza sets the table to include 12 dishes to symbolize Jesus’s 12 disciples. None of these dishes have meat and there is no alcohol at the table–a fasting tradition referred to as the Nativity Fast.

The 12 dishes that Bevza served to symbolize Jesus’s 12 disciples. Dishes do not include meat and there is no alcohol served in accordance with the Nativity Fast.Photo: Courtesy of Svitlana Bevza

Perhaps some of the most important traditions are the antique Ukrainian clothing Bevza wears. Of course, this isn’t fashion for fashion’s sake. Traditional Ukrainian clothes were either banned or frowned upon during Soviet rule. Over the past several years, however, the country’s traditional embroidery and designs have come back into the mainstream, appearing in contemporary labels’ designs. Bevza herself has even included traditional Ukrainian motifs into her own collections. “It’s a way to show to modern people and young people the variety and beauty of ethnic Ukrainian clothes,” says Bevza. “During the Soviet Union, Ukrainian culture was muted, prohibited, and neutralized as a Soviet value…as if we had no culture at all.”

Bevza’s daughter Anna eats a traditional Ukrainian treat for the holiday and wears a traditional shirt. Photo: Courtesy of Svitlana Bevza
Bevza’s son Mark wearing traditional Ukrainian clothes, including a keptar, a traditional embroidered vest. His vest is over 100 years old. Photo: Courtesy of Svitlana Bevza

One significant piece is Bevza’s necklace that she wears on Christmas, which is crafted from layered strands of tiny coral beads and is dotted with coins, which is about 100 years old. Historically, the piece reflected how much wealth a family had. Her cloth garments are intricately embroidered. Traditionally, embroidery differs from region to region, or even from village to village, and can symbolize different things, such as being young, married, or a parent. In Bevza’s case, she wore a 19th-century-era colorful woven skirt, plakhta, and a heavily embroidered vest, a keptaryk, from the Hustulshyna, a region in Western Ukraine–two gifts from her husband. Like her, the rest of her family always wears traditional iterations. “It is important for me to show things like that,” says Bevza. “In our family, wherever we are between these days, we always come back home.”

Bevza wearing a traditional embroidered Ukrainian shirt. Embroidery can signify various things in Ukraine, from region to village to whether or not a woman is married. Photo: Courtesy of Svitlana Bevza
This is a traditional Ukrainian chest in which Bevza’s family keeps their traditional clothes. They open it twice a year, for Easter and Orthodox Christmas. Photo: Courtesy of Svitlana Bevza
While Bevza’s look is almost all over 100 years old, she makes it a bit modern with the mirror selfie. Photo: Courtesy of Svitlana Bevza

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