In the Orthodox Christian tradition, Christmas doesn’t happen on December 25. The Orthodox Church’s religious celebrations are based on the Julian calendar, which means the festivities go down on or around January 7.
Traditional foods for Orthodox Christmas differ, based on location. In Russia, people eat sochivo, which is also called kutya—a porridge made from combinations of grains, rice, lentils, honey, seeds and nuts. The recipes must meet the religious requirement that no animal products may be consumed on this holiday. Sochivo is similar to a kasha dish. In Poland, it’s called kutia. Versions exist in the Ukraine, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Syria and Egypt.
Beautiful cookies called kozulya are another Russian Orthodox Christmas treat. Shaped like deer, goats, or sheep, these whimsical cookies look childlike and comforting.
In Greece, Orthodox Christmas celebrations often feature a pork dish at center stage, but there are lots of breads and cookies as well. Christopsomo bread is delicious, and kouribiedes and melomakarona cookies are indispensable.
If you’d like to taste these foods yourself, many Greek bakeries in the city offer them. Sochivo is more difficult to find, but in Bay Ridge there’s a restaurant like none other in the city: New York Koshary only serves koshary, an Egyptian grain, rice, and lentil dish similar to sochivo, but topped, sauced and seasoned in endless variations.
Within a ten-block radius, you can find Greek breads at Bay Ridge Bakery or at A&S Greek Foods; freshly made pastries and cookies including melomakarona at New Athens Market and spinach and other pies as well as meals to take home (in the old-world tradition, one entrée is available on specific days of the week) at Seven Star Bakery.