Přejeme Vám Veselé Vánoce
We wish you a merry Christmas
I realize that this post is about a week late but the information is too good to not share. The following link http://www.praguepost.com/142-culture/43577-czechs-tend-to-trust-occult-arts really started to make me think about not only the idea of religion in the Czech Republic, but also where many of the traditions come from and why.
Many of the customs related to Czech holidays, especially those at Christmas time, are rooted in superstitions that may lead to a better life if followed, or misfortune if not. Czech have a very interesting history of beliefs that begin in paganism and the worship of nature prior to the 9th century. During the 9th century, Catholic missionaries Cyril and Methodius came to the Czech lands bringing Christianity. The most important part is that the brothers presented Christianity to the people in their own tongue, not in Latin, as was custom in the rest of Christendom. It caught on quickly, but the corruption of the church became an issue in the 15th century when Jan Huss and his followers protested against the authority of the church. Most of the Czech people formed a military power to protect their lands and rights which included fighting off five crusades and helping fight for their neighbors.
Since that point their has been relative freedom of religion in the Czech Republic (allowing for many Jews to find refuge in Prague during the 1930’s and 1940’s). However, during Reich rule and communism, religion as a whole was discouraged. The communist regime over took churches for their wealth and space and pushed many Czechs away from religion. In the last 25 years of freedom, the Czech people have remained tolerant, but mostly uninterested religion.
You can read more about Czechs and religion here:
Today, most holidays and traditions are a mixture of pagan and Christian beliefs. I would first like to look at some superstitions and then go into a little more detail about Christmas Eve in the Czech Republic. Some common themes in Czech sayings or superstitions are luck, lifespan, the future, and for a good marriage. Here is a short list of those relating to Christmas:
- If you throw a shoe over your shoulder on Christmas Day, and the toe points toward the door, you will be married soon.
- A tiny boat is made from a walnut shell. If it floats in a bowl of water with a candle in it, then you will have a long, healthy life. If it sinks, then it is a bad omen.
- If you cut an apple in half crosswise and the core makes a star, it will bring you good luck.
- Pouring melted lead into water will tell you your future. For example, if the lead had a bubbly surface, you will come into money.
- If a young lady places a cherry twig in water on December 4th, St. Barbara’s day, and it blooms by Christmas Eve, she will get married in the following year.
*The following things must be done on Christmas Eve in order to ensure good luck and to not allow misfortune.
Many Czechs will fast during the day of Christmas Eve and eat only after the 1st star is seen in the sky, signifying the Star seen by the wisemen. The table is set for an even number of people so not to bring any bad luck, and no one may sit with their backs to the door. (I was also told this is done so that if a stranger comes to your home on Christmas Eve, you are ready to welcome them to dinner. The table legs may also be tied down to protect the house from being robbed.
Dinner is comprised of soup, bread with honey, fried carp, potato salad, fruit, and desert. No alcohol is allowed. The carp is bought the week of Christmas and kept in the bath tub for the children to keep as a pet. The scales of the carp are later saved to ward off evil spirits. Also, If you put a scale in your wallet, it will being you more money in the new year.
No one may leave the table once dinner has started until everyone is finished, which means no food is left on your plate. The leftovers are given to the animals and the tree, so no one is left hungry on Christmas Eve. The tree is then decorated in a separate room which is closed off until morning, when bells are rung to alert the children that baby Jesus has brought presents. (Sometimes presents are opened on Christmas Eve as well).
Christmas deserts and sweets are a very important part of the season and women will begin cooking months ahead of time. Some popular deserts are vanočka (a sweet dough with dried fruit), lintzer cookies (two butter cookies filled with jam), vanilcove rohlíky (crescent shaped walnut dough rolled in vanilla sugar), vosí hnízda (beehives with chocolate and rum), jezky (hedgehogs with chocolate and coconut), and perníčky (a honey gingerbread that is very popular). I would suggest recipes on czechcookbook.com or czechmatediary.com.
Czech people also love Christmas movies. My top three favorites are:
- Tři oříšky pro Popelku – three nuts for Cinderella
- S čerty nejsou žerty – give the devil his due
- Byl jednou jeden král – once upon a time there was a king
- You can find another list here with clips and full movies: http://www.expats.cz/prague/article/movie-tv/czech-christmas-fairy-tales
Finally, If you would like to hear more about Czech Christmas traditions this is a good place to go: http://catvusa.com/broadcast/december-22-2014/ I would also welcome you to share your experiences below!