Friday, 3 January 2014



As the New Year dawns on us, so ends the holiday season. For some people the return to normalcy after weeks of festive cheer is welcoming, but others contract post-holiday blues. I sympathize with the latter, as I truly enjoy the merrymaking, traditions and decorations that accompany Christmas. Therefore for all those who suffer from post-holiday blues I am writing this mini blog for you. I will try and legitimize good reason for a few final festive days before truly reverting back to the regular. Then I will draw attention to some of the beautiful Canadian artwork that makes the rest of the winter seem not so bleak. I will use none other than prestigious and iconic 20th century Canadian artist William Kurelek to begin making my point.

Kurelek went through many spiritual and artistic stages throughout his lifetime, both mentally positive and negative but always artistically inventive and meaningful. At one stage in his later life he reflected upon themes of his family’s Ukrainian heritage, and that of the Ukrainian community within which he was raised. This is most popularly evident in his The Ukrainian Pioneer series from 1971-1976. However, it is also outwardly evident in Ukrainian Christmas Eve painted in 1968. Ukrainian Christmas Eve was exhibited in the large travelling retrospective exhibition William Kurelek: The Messenger alongside those from The Ukrainian Pioneer series. Masters Gallery had the pleasure of exhibiting Ukrainian Christmas Eve in 2013. The painting showcased a Ukrainian family approaching the traditional feast set at the table. Kurelek used a near similar composition with traditional feast laid out on the table in his lithograph Ukrainian Christmas Eve Feast.

Ukrainian Christmas, along with most of the Eastern Orthodox Church, does not take place until January 7th, according to the Julian calendar. The older Julian calendar is still used in some Orthodox domains, and differs from the 16th century Gregorian calendar by 13 days. Thus January 7th is equivalent to December 25th. Therefore, although here in Canada most of us have had our main Christmas feast there are still millions of people around the world who are just getting ready to celebrate their primary Christmas festivities.

It is not just through the Orthodox Church that holiday celebrations can be extended into the beginning of January. Historically also in Western Europe the period called Christmastide refers to the twelve days commencing Christmas Day on December 25th with the birth of Jesus (or The Feast of the Nativity) and ending at Epiphany on January 6th with the arrival of the Three Wise Kings (or Magi) to adore and bestow gifts upon the baby Jesus. Epiphany also commemorates Jesus’ baptism.

A Twelfth Night feast on the eve before or on the 6th marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas with final revelries. These feasts typically served the hot spicy punch called Wassail. This is not so much a contemporary tradition (particularly in North America) but I still like to think of the holiday season lasting until the twelve days of Christmas are up. Epiphany and the Twelfth Night feast are more well-known in the United Kingdom, however for most people familiarity with any of the above might have come initially through literature (such as Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night) and music (via old carols such as Here we come a Wassailling, and The Twelve Days of Christmas). In the United Kingdom it is widely considered bad luck to continue to display Christmas decorations past Epiphany. I therefore also maintain that it is acceptable to remain in a festive spirit and keep my decorations displayed until my luck runs out on January 6th, or shall I say Ukrainian Christmas Eve.

Luckily for lovers of Canadian art, not all is too bleak in the midwinter and beyond. Canadian art has always drawn heavily on winter for subject matter. Countless great Canadian painters have created masterpieces flaunting exquisite winter wonderlands. These beautiful snowy scenes represent the beauty of winter all season long, not just the yuletide portion of the season.

Some examples of great wintertime Canadian art, just to name a few, are the beautiful snowy river scenes by Maurice Cullen, or the snow clad evergreen trees by Lawren Harris circa 1915-1920, and the numerous quaint snowy villages rendered by respected artists such as AY Jackson, Clarence Gagnon, Frederick Banting and many more.

Even to this day, contemporary artists like Horace Champagne embrace the beauty of winter. Not all is bleak, even if the holidays have come to a close (especially if you can be enticed to head into the mountains skiing as effectively as Peter Ewart and the Canadian Pacific did decades ago!) Enjoy the few remaining days of the holidays in good spirit.



1. William Kurelek. Ukrainian Christmas Eve, 1968, mixed media on board. Private Collection.

2. William Kurelek. Ukrainian Christmas Feast, lithograph, as seen in Kurelek's Canada, page 85

3. Benozzo Gozzoli.(Italian 15th century) Procession of the Magi in the Magi Chapel at the Palazzo Medici-Riccardo

4. Gentile de Fabriano (Italian 15th century) Adoration of the Magi in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence

5. Edward Burne-Jones. The Star of Bethlehem (Adoration scene) circa 1885 in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

6. David Teniers the Younger (Flemish, 17th century) Twelfth Night (The King Drinks) circa 1634 in the Museo del Prado, Spain

7. An advertisement for a Twelfth Night revelery/ feast from 1884

8., 9, and 10. Maurice Cullen, Lawren Harris and AY Jackson past highlights on Masters Gallery Ltd.

11. Horace Champagne. Digging Out After the Storm 2013, pastel

12. Peter Ewart for Canadian Pacific Ski Poster sold by Masters Gallery Vancouver 2013

Note: For those who might be wondering about the title, it is a play on words based on the Christmas Carol In the Bleak Midwinter for those who may are not familiar with that hymn.

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