Adriana Wojcickyj expressed her family traditions celebrating Christmas Holidays to InLove magazine. All her relatives come to the Catskill Mountains on Christmas Eve, and everyone is dressed in embroidered shirts, waiting for the first star to appear in the sky. After that her grandfather says a blessing, her younger brother Marko and cousin Maksym carry to the table a traditional wheat didukh adorned with a wooden spoon – a symbol that the family will never go hungry. A sheaf of wheat is a Ukrainian Christmas symbol, representing the best offerings of wheat of grain-growing cultures, a symbol of harvest, prosperity, wealth, ancestors, family, Ukrainian spiritual life, a protective talisman. Didukh has been a traditional ritual since pre-Christian times.
Didukh is a grandfather spirit, the spirit of all grandparents, and all the family predecessors. This ancient rite shows the honor and respect of our ancestors for their family tree. Christians have their own interpretation of the Christmas sheaf. When baby Jesus was born in a stable, there was a draft and Joseph found the hole, stuffing it with a sheaf of straw. For these reasons, Didukh is a favorite symbol of comfort and warmth.
Adriana’s family also preserves ancient rituals. Hay is placed under the tablecloth as a symbol of Jesus’ manger.
Garlic is placed at the corners of the table to ward away evil spirits. There is also an empty plate and glass of water on the table in memory of family members who are no longer here, but never forgotten by the family and are present in spirit at the holiday celebration.
There are 12 meatless courses prepared for Christmas Eve so every month in the New Year is a bountiful one, as well as, in memory of the 12 Apostles – Disciples of Christ. The table is decorated with a kolach (Christmas bread) adorned with a single candle and pine branches. The candle symbolizes the star of Bethlehem. Grandpa gives everyone Prosphora (unleavened
bread). After dinner everyone sings carols and listens for chimes, which announces the angels have arrived with gifts. The next day, all members of Adriana’s family go to church, celebrating the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Adriana’s story is stirring because of its’ combination of ancient Christian traditions and pagan customs, for this was and always is the spiritual life of the Ukrainian people, preserved even overseas. It survived through the times of atheistic regime in Ukraine, but equally moving is the fate of the narrator through the voice of her computer and with the help of her mother. The 19-yearold Adriana was born with cerebral palsy and is destined to a life of disability.
“As I grew”, she says, “Problems became more clear. I could not sit on my own, could not walk without assistance, and I also had problems with speech. Despite intensive therapy, since the age of six-months, I never gained speech or the ability to walk independently. I communicate with those around me using sounds, gestures and computers. I understand both English and Ukrainian languages. I walk with the assistance of a walker. I had a lot of help from experienced doctors, therapists and my loving family. School years were a challenge. Many schools were not equipped for children with disabilities. My parents insisted on making school buildings more accessible to the needs of disabled children and in most cases they succeeded. I am sure that my intervention helped the situation.
In 2011, I faced a new challenge. Doctors discovered I had a rare and very aggressive form of cancer, and I had to have chemotherapy, radiation, a number of complicated surgical interventions, and spent a lot of time in the hospital. The doctors
did not expect me to ever stand and walk, but I did not give up hope. I began a difficult struggle for a normal life and now I walk again as I did before.
My maternal grandparents, as scouts, spent a lot of time outdoors in nature. It was from them that I believe I inherited my love of nature and sports. My disability did not stop me from swimming, skiing, riding horses, biking and hiking. Our family belongs to the Carpathian Ski Club. I have specially adapted skis and we participate in ski races as a family. Catskill Mountains remind my grandparents of their native Carpathians. Together with them and my parents, I visit the church in Hunter, built in Hutsul style. In this church my parents, Stefan and Natalia, were married. This is also where my brother and I were baptized and where I received my First Communion.»
The Christmas letter and the story of Adriana give us a reason to assert that she was reborn through the strength of her will and spirit, overcoming many challenges in her life. Of course, every time she relied not only on the help of people around her but also on God’s providence, God’s mercy that always exist in the world, although the world does not always notice it. Inevitably our thoughts turn to children with cerebral palsy in Ukraine, who still does not have these conditions for survival that are created for these patients in the US.
On February 24, 2014 in Kyiv, a meeting was held with participation of leading specialists in social rehabilitation of disabled children, where it was recommended to buy rehabilitation equipment in Switzerland, implementing robotic sensory feedback, means of communication and so on. All this is only a recommendation. Meanwhile, in all regions of Ukraine there are long waiting lists (up to a year) for the course of rehabilitation of children in rehab centers of Kharkiv and Odessa that are equipped with the necessary systems. Ukrainian children with disabilities are waiting for assistance that may be provided by donating through the charitable organization «Sublimitas» (information is listed in our magazine).
Courageous and strong Adriana is the leading role model with love for her life, proving that overcoming difficulties is a personal freedom of a growing human being. Adriana believed in herself, she believed that she will win and she won!
Lev Khmelkovsky. Contributed by Adriana and Natalia Wojcickyj.
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