Christmas Eve in the Czech Republic
There are definitely similarities between Christmas in the Czech Republic and Christmas in the states, but there are also some rather unique differences in the ways that Czech’s celebrate the season and I thought I’d share some of them with you all today.
Like my family, Czech’s decorate Christmas trees, but unlike my family traditionally Czech families wait to decorate the tree till Christmas Eve. In the Czech Republic Christmas eve is when the real festivities happen.
This evening Czech families will gather for Christmas Eve dinner, which is traditionally made up of fried carp (and or carp soup) and potato salad (not what I would call a traditional Christmas dinner). I don’t know if you know anything about carp, but it’s a fish that most people (in the states at least) would consider basically in-edible because it is mostly bones. But, what makes the carp eating even stranger to me is that a few days before Christmas Eve large tubs of carp will appear on the sidewalks for people to buy it off the street. When you buy your carp you can choose to have it killed there, but many people will take their carp home and have it live in the bath tub for a few days. If they choose to take it home then the men of the family will kill the carp on Christmas Eve. I’ve never had carp, but this whole idea seems more than a bit strange to me.
After dinner the superstitions start showing up. It’s said that Christmas Eve is a magic time when people can see into the future and maybe even influence their futures. There are many things that a Czech family might do after dinner to try and predict the future. One such tradition begins with cutting an apple in half; if the core of the apple is in the shape of a five-pointed star then you will have health and happiness in the next year. If instead of a five-pointed star your apple core is in the shape of a cross then you can expect an unlucky year ahead.
Another such Czech tradition is the floating of walnut shells. Each person gets a half of a walnut shell and places a small candle in the shell and lights it. The shells are then placed in a large bowl of water. If your walnut shell makes it across the bowl reaching the other side then you will have a long and healthy life, if it sinks then that means bad luck.
The Czech’s also have a number of Christmas Eve traditions that are supposed to foretell marriage. One of these traditions is that an unmarried girl can cut a twig off of a cherry tree on December 4th (St. Barbora’s Day) and place the branch in water, if it blooms by Christmas Eve then that girl will marry within a year. The other marriage predicting tradition is that after dinner on Christmas Eve an unmarried girl is supposed to throw a shoe over her shoulder towards the door. If the shoe lands with the tow pointing the door then the girl will be leaving home to get married within a year.
After the dinner and fortune telling the children will be sent up to their rooms or somewhere away from the Christmas tree. This is the time when Ježíšek comes. Ježíšek is baby Jesus, and for the Czech children he brings their presents instead of Santa Claus. After the children have been away for a little while a bell will be rung and they will rush back to the tree where they will find the tree lights on for the first time and their presents now under the tree.
So, that’s a little bit of what a traditional Czech Christmas Eve might look like. Wherever you may find yourself today and whatever your own family and cultural traditions may be for this day, I pray that this day is filled with true hope and deep laughter for you.
Rejoicing in the journey - Bethany Stedman