Christmas Around The World: The Czech Republic
Even though I am not from the Czech Republic and I have no family connection there, I have had multiple experiences connecting me to this country. As a child I sang in the Brigham Young University Children’s Choir. Instead of matching uniforms for performances, each child wore a costume that represented a different country. As you can probably guess, my costume was from Czechoslovakia. (Side history note: Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.) During my time in the BYU Children’s Choir my grandparents visited Czechoslovakia and other eastern European countries. Because of my choir costume they brought me back two dolls in traditional Czechoslovakian clothing. Later in life I studied forest management in the Czech Republic for five weeks on a study abroad trip. So I have to admit, I wasn’t ecstatic about the Czech costume as a child because it was a very simple costume compared to many of the other countries. But I love it now, looking back and seeing the simple connections.
Czech’s celebrate Christmas December 24th through the 26th but Christmas Eve is generally the most enjoyable. It’s name in Czech literally means “Generous Day”. Tradition is to have plentiful amounts of food for everyone, even farm animals. Although it is also tradition to not eat until the first star has appeared.
After dinner the children leave the room to wait for presents to arrive. The children believe Baby Jesus comes in through the open window and leaves gifts under the tree. Once the gifts are under the tree, He rings a bell (done by the parents of course) signalling the kids can come out and open them. Children also received gifts on St. Nicolas day at the beginning of December.
The Christmas Eve dinner usually consists of soup, potato salad and carp. The Czech culture is steeped in superstitions. Here are a few traditionally associated with the dinner but that are no longer practiced:
- No one could drink alcohol at the dinner.
- Everyone left the table at the exact same time. If a person left the table first, they would be the first person to die in the coming year.
- Rope was tied around the legs of the table to prevent theft in the new year.
- No ones back to be towards the door.
- Any food leftovers would be buried underneath the fruit trees to ensure a productive harvest in the coming year.
- The table should be set for an even number of guests. Odd number brings bad luck or death.
- An the list goes on.
During the Christmas season carp is sold from tubs around town squares. Some people keep the live carp in their bath tubs as pet for a couple days. Dessert was traditionally apple strudel or vánočka – a sweet bread. Now, I am not a great baker but I do enjoy trying new recipes so I decided to try making vánočka. It is a beautiful braided bread topped with almonds. I found a recipe from a food blogger I trust and that turned out excellent. My son had a lot of fun helping me braid and twist the dough. I used this recipe from The Kitchn. I halved the recipe and it still turned out. Just a word of advice, it is a lot of work to make this bread and my halved recipe made a pretty large loaf of bread. We easily could have fed eight people.
December 25th and 26th are referred to the First and Second Christmas Holiday or Christmas Feast and St. Stephen’s Day. Traditionally people caroled on St. Stephen’s Day, but today it is a day to be spent with family and friends.
One last Czech Christmas superstition. If an unmarried girl tosses a shoe over her shoulder toward towards a door and the shoe lands with the toe pointing towards door, She will marry within the year.