Community members gather to welcome newly arrived Ukrainians with Christmas celebration

City Councillors Dennis Ogrodnick and Ted Zurakowski speak to the Ukrainian families with the help of two translators at the Dec. 19 Christmas dinner. -- Bailey Sutherland/Daily Herald

Prince Albert’s Member of Parliament, Randy Hoback, hosted a Christmas celebration at Plaza 88 on Monday evening for the 36 Ukrainian families that recently settled in the community to make them feel a little bit more at home this holiday season.

While going through donations for the newcomers at his office, Hoback approached Sonya Jahn, who looks after the Ukrainian newcomers in Prince Albert, with the idea to have a Christmas party for the displaced Ukrainian children.

“It was just trying to find the appropriate time and date where it worked to bring everyone together,” explained Hoback. “We’re kind of flying by the seat of our pants here a bit, but I think we’ve had a pretty successful turnout.”

Hoback’s Christmas celebration just so happened to land on St. Nicholas Day, a special Ukrainian tradition that marks the beginning of the winter holiday season.

Jahn explained that on Dec. 19, St. Nicholas, the Ukrainian version of Santa Claus, puts a small gift under children’s pillows.

“St. Nicholas Day has always been traditionally a very special and important day for Ukrainian families,” she said.

The melting pot of different cultures and their unique traditions is what makes Canada such a great country, said Hoback.

“I just wanted them to experience the Canadian Christmas that I remember, a chance for kids to have some gifts and a nice meal and just [have] a nice evening out with friends and family,” he said. “We’re trying to create that atmosphere here.”

Other community leaders also made an appearance on Monday evening, such as a few City Councillors, MLA Alana Ross, and the Deputy Chief of the Prince Albert Police Service, Farica Prince. They took turns introducing themselves and explaining what they do for the community with the help of two Ukrainian translators.

On behalf of the City of Prince Albert, retired teacher Dennis Ogrodnick and current educator Ted Zurakowski shared the positive impacts the Ukrainian families have had on the community and in Prince Albert schools. Zurakowski said he sees it firsthand when he teaches in the classroom.

Deputy Chief Farica Prince described the long-standing relationship between the First Nations People of Treaty 6 and Ukrainians in the province; and how the newcomers continue to enrich the Prince Albert community and make that bond stronger.

“It has been so nice for the community to welcome the Ukrainian families to Prince Albert and to host various Christmas events and celebrations and dinners for them to feel a little less sad,” said Jahn. “Right now, they are missing their families. Having an event like this is very heartwarming and they just feel very much a part of our community and part of Prince Albert.”

According to Jahn, the families will be celebrating Canadian Christmas Day on Dec. 25, as well as the beginning of their Ukrainian Christmas festivities on Jan. 6 with a traditional meal of 12 meatless dishes for Ukrainian Christmas Eve.

“Just like many cultures, Ukrainians love to celebrate,” added Jahn. “It’s all about the good food, it’s about family and being together.”