Unity and culinary tradition bring joy to holiday season in Westboro, Wellington West

Two women pose for a photo wearing Ukrainian yellow and blue colours.
Iryna Abramova and her mother were vendors at the Ukrainian Christmas sale held on Nov. 18. Photo by Ellen Bond.

By Hannah Wanamaker

Many Kitchissippi residents are overcoming an especially grim Christmas season by forging communities, sharing traditional meals and raising money to support those in need.

Local churches and community organizations are banding together with shelters and food banks to meet increasing demands for their services during the holidays. 

Meanwhile, people across the globe are rallying their efforts and funds to support those living through the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.

Members from the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral Assumption Of The Blessed Virgin held their Annual Ukrainian Christmas Market on Nov. 18, selling a variety of traditional Ukrainian foods and handmade items to raise money for Ukrainian migrants and those living in the war.

“The war is still going on. It hasn’t stopped,” said Natalie Toke Mason, one of the event organizers.

“It’s not easy living here in Canada right now. The pricing has gone up, and housing is difficult to find here,” she said, adding that someone approached the church looking for housing before the market.

Iryna Abramova and her mother were vendors at the market selling crocheted blue and yellow winter items. They started selling goods a few years ago to raise money for their family members in Ukraine.

Three woman pose for a photo. In front of them is a table with baked goods.
As war continues to unfold in Ukraine, members of Ottawa’s Ukrainian community are reflecting on what the holiday season means to them. Photo by Ellen Bond.

“Because all our family is back in Ukraine and winter is coming and it’s cold, we started celebrating Christmas trying to raise money for Ukraine so we can send help to them.”

Crafting and selling these items is one way she has been able to stay positive and help her family throughout the season. She also enjoys traditional Ukrainian Christmas meals like borscht and her mother’s variety of Christmas cookies.  

According to Toke Mason, the market food tables are always a big draw for people across the city. Their massive spreads include perogies (varenyky), cabbage rolls (holubsti), beet soup (borscht) and many baked goods. 

“We tend to include anyone and everyone who would like to come help us prepare,” she said. 

Father Taras Kinash, the church’s priest, added that Canadians love Ukrainian food. His favourite traditional dish is a meat and rice stuffed cabbage roll.

“The traditions are very rich. They are very strong and people really enjoy them. They are very peaceful and kind.”

People used to line the streets in Ukraine’s Christmas markets to celebrate the holiday season. “In Canada, this tradition is rebuilt,” he said, beaming.

“It’s not just a regular market where you can buy goods—it’s more like a community gathering. If you look around you will see Ukrainian goods, Ukrainian dishes, Ukrainian embroidery and souvenirs, and most of the vendors are making donations to Ukraine,” Kinash said.

Borys Sirskyj donates the proceeds from his beeswax candles to wounded soldiers in Ukraine.

“I sit and make candles because I send every penny to wounded warriors in Ukraine,” he said. The process involves creating moulds for the beeswax candles which need to set for a few hours.

Sirskyj’s candles range in design and size. Some are long and simple, and others have detailed floral patterns around them. This Christmas, Sirskyj hopes for “peace and tranquillity on this planet because it’s in bad shape right now.”

A man and a woman pose for a photo. They have drawings behind them.
Vendors at the Christmas Craft Fair held at the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral Assumption Of The Blessed Virgin on Nov. 18. Photo by Ellen Bond.

Another vendor, Tamara Caris, creates lino prints rooted in “deep and rich” symbolism. One of her prints of a poppy means dream but signifies beauty, she said. A lino print uses a block of linoleum that is carved and inked, pressed and stamped. 

Before designing these, Caris’ artistic work involved engraving and chipping. Exploring Ottawa’s Christmas market scene each winter is one of her favourite traditions.

“You get to see a lot of different artists and their handiwork which I think is really special,” she said.

Caris also spreads Christmas joy by carolling with her scouting group and indulging in food from her Dutch and Ukrainian backgrounds. Each Christmas Eve, she looks forward to the traditional 12 meatless, dairy-free dishes, though her favourites are the sauerkraut perogies and plum-filled donuts.

Another Ottawa-based charity, Souper Jazz, is “swinging” together money through performances in malls and shopping centres to support The Shepherds of Good Hope and other soup kitchens.

The six-to-eight-piece ensemble has been grooving to traditional Dixieland jazz since 1987.

Jazz performers inside Carlingwood Shopping Centre play music.
Souper Jazz performs at Carlingwood Mall on Nov. 18, 2023. Photo by Ellen Bond.

Souper Jazz trumpet player and musical director John Mitchell said that they have raised over $600,000 in their 36 years performing. “The people are very generous,” he said, adding that they raise at least $8,000 yearly.

Their unique performances attract many patrons, some of whom have never heard traditional jazz.

“Shoppers are starting to think about Christmas and they take their kids with them to the shopping mall. The kids are a major element in our presentations because they have never heard this kind of music before and they start to bounce up and down and get really interested,” said a chipper Mitchell.

They can be found boogying to their century-old tunes in the Carlingwood Mall, Billings Bridge Shopping Centre and some major grocery stores throughout the winter season.

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