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While many Americans are sweeping up tinsel, in Ukrainian, Russian and other Orthodox churches, preparations are still under way for Christmas, which is celebrated on January 7th. At the Christmas Eve feast, many will eat pierogies. Traditionally, these dumplings are made at home, but as Deena Prichep reports from Portland, Oregon, they're becoming a parish industry.
DEENA PRICHEP: Myra Petrouchtchak is in the basement of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Church, a small parish of about 50 people in southeast Portland. She's sitting with a few dozen others, stuffing and shaping potato pierogies by hand - over 2,000 pierogies. They've developed a following in the neighborhood.
Ms. MYRA PETROUCHTCHAK (St. John The Baptist Ukrainian Church): People come here and say that those pierogies remind them about their childhood. Not only Ukrainian people, some German people, Polish people. And it's like, oh, my grandmother used to do that.
PRICHEP: Petrouchtchak and her husband, the priest at this parish, started weekly pierogi sales when they came to the church five years ago. And they've raised enough money to renovate the church basement. But from the beginning, this was more than just a fundraiser.
Ms. PETROUCHTCHAK: It was good for the parish community, you know, because many young women didn't know how to make pierogies, you know, or didn't have time to make pierogies at home. But here, all children can learn how to do it, you know, and carry on the tradition.
PRICHEP: And lots of kids are helping. The older ones shape pierogies, and the littlest ones carry trays from the kitchen. Andrea Roelofs is third-generation Ukrainian-American, and explains that while the kids learn about their Ukrainian heritage, the adults get something out of it, too.
Ms. ANDREA ROELOFS (Ukrainian-American): It's a great way to socialize. They come in and they're a little frustrated with something. By the time they leave, they're fine. It's cheaper than a psychologist.
PRICHEP: People really do seem to be enjoying themselves, and they want me to join in.
Ms. PETROUCHTCHAK: You want to try? You want to try to do with us? We can teach you. It's easy. Put the potatoes, fold it together. You try it, it's delicious.
PRICHEP: And she's right, it is delicious, especially topped with sour cream and caramelized onions. But as it turns out, the pierogies aren't totally traditional. Usually they'd be made with a bit of cottage cheese, but St. John's uses cheddar instead.
And parish member Maria Kamsha says the results might be a little too good.
Ms. MARIA KAMSHA (Parish Member, St. John The Baptist Ukrainian Church): My children will say, Mom, you know, your pierogies that you make at home, they are not quite that good as the ones that are at the church.
PRICHEP: Kamsha is wistful about the change. While the exact recipe may have evolved, the heart of the tradition - friends and family coming together over pierogies - is not in any danger of dying out.
For NPR News, I'm Deena Prichep.
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