Ukrainians of Canada - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practitioners. The Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Greek Orthodox churches are the predominant traditional denominations in the Ukrainian-Canadian community, claiming some 190,000 and 99,000 adherents, respectively (the latter figure includes a minority of other Orthodox denominations as well). In the 1981 Census, Ukrainians also reported adherence to Roman Catholicism (89,000), the United church (71,000), and many other forms of Christianity. Some 42,000 indicated no religious preference. In spite of declining attendance in the two traditional Ukrainian churches, especially among the younger generations, they continue to maintain substantial significance in Ukrainian-Canadian society. The Ukraine adopted the Byzantine form of Christianity one thousand years ago, and thus eastern Christian traditions of worship are followed. Compared to most western Christian practices, the rites are quite ancient and ritualistic. The older Julian calendar is traditionally retained by these churches, and thus Christmas is celebrated on January 7. The Ukrainian Catholic (Uniate, Greek Catholic) church acknowledges the leadership of the pope in Rome, although theoretically it retains its Orthodox rite. The Ukrainian Greek Orthodox church of Canada, established in 1918, is independent. Both the Ukrainian Catholic and the Orthodox communities in Canada have undergone some westernization in terms of their spiritual culture. General acceptance of latinized rituals, the English language, and the newer Gregorian calendar is more widespread among the Catholics.

Ceremonies. Ukrainian culture was very rich in traditional lore into the beginning of the twentieth century, in part, because it was relatively isolated from cosmopolitan influences and the leveling pressures of industrialization. Most emigrants, then, identified with a rich tradition of rituals and customs. Social life was generally disrupted upon migration because of the isolation and because Canadian policies for settling the prairies precluded tight-knit village settlements. Nonetheless, in many communities, various customs were maintained, adapted, and sometimes reconstructed to establish a unique Ukrainian-Canadian ritual culture. The most important ceremony dealing with the life cycle is the wedding, which is often large and features food, drink, socializing, dancing, and gift-giving.

The cultural response to death has been partially influenced by the community's Eastern Christian spirituality as well as by connections with its peasant origins. These factors are reflected in the services conducted during burial, a lessened tendency to isolate the living from the corpse, somewhat particular grave markers, and traditional cemetery visitations at prescribed intervals. In general, however, funeral practices and attitudes now conform closely to those of the Canadian mainstream.

The most important calendar holidays are Christmas ( Rizdvo ) and Easter ( Velykden' ), both of which retain many Ukrainian features. The main focus at Christmas is on the Christmas Eve supper, consisting traditionally of twelve meatless dishes. Caroling, church service, and visiting follow. Christmas is celebrated twice each year by many Ukrainian families in Canada, once on December 25 and again, Somewhat differently, on January 7. The highlight at Easter is breaking the Lenten fast with a blessed family meal on Sunday after church service. A pre-Lenten party ( Pushchennia ), New Year's Eve ( Malanka ) on January 13, and harvest festival ( Obzhynky ) celebrations are common in many communities.

Other holidays include Ukrainian Independence Day, the anniversary of Taras Shevchenko (Ukraine's national poet), and numerous smaller religious feasts. Ukrainian-Canadians also participate in Canadian holidays such as Valentine's Day, Canada Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and so on.

Arts. The arts are very important to Ukrainian-Canadian culture. Indeed, they compose the most prominent aspect of Ukrainian-Canadian life in the minds of many Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians alike. Many folk arts were brought over from Europe by the early immigrants, as they lived in a culture where domestic objects were mostly handmade and activities were directly organized. In Ukraine, the style and form of these arts were quite specific. The arts came to be closely identified with Ukrainian consciousness itself. With the transition to the urban, technological, and consumer-oriented world of twentieth-century Canada, the old activities and crafts lost much of their practical worth. On the other hand, many retained or even gained value as symbols of Ukrainianness, markers of a special subculture within the Canadian milieu. This function has remained relevant in the contemporary North American context. In association with this process, many of these "folk arts" changed radically in form, materials, and context. The terms "pseudo-folk arts," "national arts" or "Ukrainian pop" have been proposed to reflect some of the contemporary features of this type of activity. Popular contemporary manifestations of Ukrainian-Canadian material culture include folk costumes, weaving, embroidery, Easter egg painting, church architecture, various styles of pottery, and miscellaneous novelty items. The fine arts of literature, painting, and sculpture have vibrant Ukrainian variants in Canada. Staged folk dance and choral singing are extremely popular in many communities. The Ukrainian music industry includes recording artists in many different styles.

Medicine. Folk medicine was strong in western Ukrainian villages and in rural Canada in earlier years. Local specialists developed much knowledge and expertise dealing with a wide variety of health problems. Remnants of this lore exist unofficially, sometimes dealing with problems outside the realm of traditional medicine. Ukrainian-Canadians participate in the Canadian health care system.

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