Celebrating Ipswich cultures

PEOPLE from across the world have made Suffolk's county town their home - and those homes will not all play host to turkey and tinsel. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING gets a glimpse of the different Christmas traditions.

By Tracey Sparling

PEOPLE from across the world have made Suffolk's county town their home - and those homes will not all play host to turkey and tinsel. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING gets a glimpse of the different Christmas traditions.

Christmas festivities begin later in Poland, with the tree being put up on Christmas Eve which is called Wigilia - meaning 'vigil'.

Traditionally it is decorated with homemade sweets and chocolates, and presents are hidden all over the house rather than under the tree.

Edwards Chwastek of the Polskie Biuro in Ipswich said there were about 5,000 Polish people in Ipswich: “Three quarters of Polish people in Ipswich are aged 18-34, who have come here to work. Thanks to cheap flights from Stansted many will be going home for Christmas.

Edward said: “In Poland people are still more family orientated than here if I may say so. Families stay living close and Christmas brings together as many people as you can fit in your home, sometimes as many as 20 people.”

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On Christmas Eve everybody helps clean the house and prepare that evening's feast. An extra place is laid at the table, as a tradition in case a stranger drops by needing sustenance, but these it's more likely to be an elderly neighbour who pops in.

Everybody takes a postcard-sized wafer called oplatek, breaks it to share with everyone in the room, kissing them on both cheeks three times and wishing them all the very best. Made of flour and water, the wafers are embossed with pictures of nativity scenes.

Edward said: “Everybody tries to greet everybody so it can get quite chaotic! Especially because you can end up with pieces of oplatek in both hands as you give and receive it.”

In early January there will also be an oplatek ceremony at St Mary's Church parish hall in Ipswich.

Grace and prayers are said before any food is eaten. Specialities are herring with onions, carp in jelly, and pike - as meat is not eaten at Christmas. Up to 12 courses can be eaten, maybe in homage to the 12 apostles, of many little dishes. On the menu will be beetroot soup, dumpling dishes, and fruit compote with cakes for dessert.

Edward said: “Halfway through the meal somebody who is musical will start singing carols and somebody might play the piano.

Polish people attend church after the mea on Christmas Eve, for Midnight Mass, then again at noon on Christmas Day which is known as St Stephen's Day - that's also the Polish Bishop's birthday - and Boxing Day.

Leftovers are eaten on Christmas Day. Some people keep their Christmas tree until February 2, so although the festivities start later they last longer.

In Russia, Christmas is celebrated overnight from January 6 to 7. Lots of candles are lit to adorn windowsills, and a feast of duck or chicken is prepared and varieties of cakes are baked.

The whole family stays up until midnight and the children don't sleep until they have opened their presents at midnight.

Galina Oja, head of The Russian School in Ipswich, said: “The adults start to eat at 11pm, and have a little bottle of champagne each a few minutes before midnight.

“A favourite food is definitely salads. At Christmas we have for example beetroot salad, carrot salad, and the very popular 'olivier salad' which combines potato, slated cucumber, wurscht, mayonnaise and pieces of sweet paper. The salads are eaten first, then the main meal, then cakes -some with raisins as a speciality - and it can last until 4am.”

English traditions are mirrored, including a Father Christmas, a tree, decorations, and gifts for the children.

Galina said: “People sit round the table and catch up with each other's news, sing songs, and play games. We also gather round the tree to sing traditional songs - Russian people like to sing.”

A children's Christmas party will be held at the school on January 6, and an adults party at the Earl Kitchener pub on Saturday .

Galina added: “Russian families will see English Christmas on December 25, then New Year, then the Russian Christmas on January 6, then celebrate the old calendar's 'new year' on January 14 so it's a very busy time.

“We also go to church in Felixstowe on the morning of January 7, and the service is very long. It lasts from 6pm on January 6 to 4am the next day.”

HELEN Lehkyj has been married to her Ukrainian husband Mykola for 54 years.

She said Christmas in Ukraine is celebrated on January 7 with Christmas Eve on January 6 as the main celebration.

The most important part of Christmas Eve celebrations is Holy Supper known as Sviata Vechera.

The dinner table will often have a little hay on embroidered tablecloths to symbolize the manger of Bethlehem where Christ was born.

Children announce the appearance of the first Star in the eastern evening sky and dinner is begun.

Helen said: “Ukrainians use the Gregorian calendar Christmas is celebrated on January 6 in our calendar. We have a special meal that starts with borsch then a dish called Holipcie which is cabbage and rice and then bereniky which are potato and cheese dumplings.”

For the Ukrainian people Christmas is the most important family holiday of the year.

Ukrainian Christmas customs are based not only on Christian traditions but also on pagan culture which was later assimilated by the church.

Helen, a member of Ipswich Ukrainian Club, said: “The next course is maize cooked in honey. The tradition is that at the end of the meal the maize is thrown on to the ceiling. If it sticks it means you will have a good year and good crops. If it falls then you won't do so well.”

Helen said the courses are meatless as people fast until Christmas day.

She added: “Presents aren't exchanged at this time. That's done at St Nicholas Day which is December 19. Its for the children really.

“At Christmas we all get together and have a few drinks, eat well and be merry.”

Just how many nationalities there are living in Ipswich today, is a tough question to answer.

Fairer Ipswich officer at Ipswich Borough Council, Jarek Kopec said: “It is difficult to specify exactly.

“Different sources can give an idea as to the information that you are looking for, but none on their own will give you the information that you seek. Also each of them will have their own peculiar flaws.”

He suggested three sources which together show as many as 51 countries of birth for Ipswich residents; the Census, the Worker Registration Scheme and National Insurance number allocations.

The latest Census in 2001 collected information on the country of birth of residents, and lists 47 countries, plus the four countries which make up the UK. It also showed 12 'other' areas where individual countries are not specified, such as North Africa. There were approx 13,367 people in Ipswich who stated that they were born outside the UK.

The Worker Registration Scheme shows migrants from EU states, who have secured employment. But the scheme registers people where their employer is based, rather than where they live. Between May 2004 and March this year there were 1,550 such registrations in Ipswich. In Suffolk there were 6,380 registrations. This information doesn't cover those who are self employed, and doesn't de-register people when they move on, or show how long they stay.

National Insurance Number allocations over the last two years, show that there were allocations to people of 43 countries - indicating 1,810 new workers in 2005/2006 and 1,900 in 2006/2007. these included Poland, India, Slovak Republic, Pakistan, Australia, Lithuania, France, South Africa, China, Germany, Italy, Nigeria, Czech Republic, Latvia, Portugal, Hungary, Spain, USA, Bangladesh, Ireland,

Phillipines, New Zealand, Netherlands, Canada, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Turkey, Romania, Zimbabwe, Thailand, Malaysia, Greece, Bulgaria, Somalia, Iran, Russian Federation, Iraq, Estonia, Ukraine, Albania, Norway, Belarus, Moldova, Guyana.

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