Christmas time is connected with many traditions and customs. Some are shared by almost all Christian countries but there are many traditions specific for each country. I will tell you about the traditions that are being held in the Czech Republic.
Our Christmas start early
Christmas (“Vánoce”) means three day of holiday (24th to 26th December). The main day of Christmas for the Czechs is 24th December (while it is a working day in many other European countries) which we call “Štědrý den” (literally “Generous Day”). Presents are being unwrapped during the evening, most often shortly after the dinner. The presents are being put under the Christmas tree. Though globalisation puts a pressure on us, we do not believe that present are being brought by Santa Claus. Well, not yet. In the Czech Republic, it is Baby Jesus (“Ježíšek”) who is responsible for the joy or disappointment of your children.
It is usually spruce, sometimes fir or pine. More and more often, an artificial tree is used. Earlier, the tree was hung on the ceiling, nowadays you’ll find it standing on the floor or a table – if it is a smaller tree. Tree is being decorated with bulbs, candles, various festoons or even candy. Some families are able to decorate the tree so heavily that the tree itself cannot be seen! The tree is usually removed on 6th January (Epiphany).
If you observe out tradition, Christmas dinner is your first meal on 24th December. Our children are taught that if they don’t eat anything until the dinner, they would see a small golden pig. The true goal of this tradition is perhaps to teach the children that life is not easy.
Finally, the dinner is here. The main course is typically fried carp with potato salad which follow after fish soup. That is why there are so many tubs with fish in the streets in the weeks before Christmas. In most of the households, Christmas festivities of peace and love begin with killing and gutting of poor fish in 24rd December morning.
How to get rich
Tradition says that the more courses the Christmas dinner has, the more money will be gained the following year. Even poor families tried to have as many courses as possible – a handful of nuts or dried plums was counted as a course, too. There is another similar tradition connected with Christmas dinner. People put a scale of the carp they are going to eat under their plate to warrant wealth for the year to come.
Today, many families are competing to have many kinds of Christmas candy. The modern technologies have even stimulated this since thousands of receipts are now available on the internet. New space opened for many who now can get beyond the dozens of receipts inherited within the family or obtained from friends. Many women – and quite many men as well – prove their skills and sometimes endurance by producing one, two, three or more dozens of kinds of candy each year. Very often such candy is better than any you can get in a candy store! If you have a good Czech friends ask them to let you taste some of their Christmas candy. You will love it!
Other traditional Christmas food
On 25th December, turkey is usually served for lunch. During Christmas, typical breakfast includes home-made Christmas sweet bread (“vánočka”). Vánočka, nevertheless, can also be bought in a grocery store – and during the whole year despite its name derived from Czech word for Christmas.
Will I be rich? And healthy? And will I get married? And…
Quite many traditions are bound with fortune telling. People throw a wooden shoe, all cast lead or wax into water and guessed at their future from the shape it has taken when it solidified. Apples are being cut into two – the shape of the seeds indicats your health in the next year. Nut shells are being put on the river to see how far they get – which is to tell how long your life will be.
During the Advent, many people light candles on an advent wreath. It has four candles. One is lighted on the first Advent Sunday, two on the second, three on the third. Finally, on the last Sunday before Christmas, all four are lit.
Carols and other music
Czechs have a lot of carols and sing them – or listen to them. There are also two well-known classical music pieces which were composed for Christmas time: the Czech Lute composed In 17th century by Adam Václav Michna of Otradovice and Czech Christmas Mass (composed in 1796) by Jan Jakub Ryba. Those pieces are frequent item on the repertoire of many choirs. If you visit one of the many Christmas concerts in Prague, it is very likely that you will hear one of those two.
There are many more traditions connected with Christmas. Some are peculiar, some are perhaps kept for the children. The most important during Christmas, however, is family, to be together with people you love.