Wishing someone a merry or happy Christmas in the Czech language is ‘Veselé Vánoce’ and like other European countries in the region, celebrations start early in December. St. Nicholas Eve is marked in the Czech Republic as the evening of 5th December when children eagerly wait with excitement for Svatý Mikuláš (St. Nicholas) to arrive. He is said to normally arrive with one or more angels and one or more devils and asks the children if they’ve been good all year. He also asks the children to read a poem or sing a song before bestowing on them a present of a basket, usually containing fruit and chocolate. However, if you’ve been naughty, the devil will give you a lump of coal instead. St. Nicholas Eve, although falls in the run-up to Christmas, the two festive days are considered as separate holidays
The actual Christmas celebrations in the Czech Republic, start on Christmas Eve and is called Štědrý den or ‘Generous Day’. Traditional Czech Christmas ornaments will decorate the Christmas tree and preparations are made for a festive dinner, one that fills the table.
Some people will fast for the day with a hope to see a vision of ‘the golden piglet’ or zlaté prasátko on the wall before dinner. If it is seen it is said this is a sign of good luck.
During the Christmas Eve dinner- the children have their dinner in a separate room to where the Christmas tree is and in excitement wait to hear the bell on the tree ring. This sound means Ježíšek ‘Little Jesus’ (the Czech version of Christkindl) has brought the Christmas presents and placed them under the tree. As you would expect, the presents are opened after the dinner on Christmas Eve.
Christian services also take place in the Czech Republic and people go to the church either at midnight or on Christmas Day. Families will also engage in singing carols by the Christmas tree, in celebrating the festivity.
A tale, related to those that are single, goes if you throw a shoe over your shoulder on Christmas day and the toe of the shoe points towards the door then you will be married soon.
A personal story:
By Veronika Susedkova
Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?
Traditional Czech Christmas dinner happens on the 24th December and has 2 courses – fish soup and then fish – carp – and potato salad. That is all one can claim really, because the way the fish is prepared, what goes in the soup and what is supposed to be in the potato salad is all a matter of where you are and who’s at the table with you. Every region, village and family has their favourites! Some fish soups are with bread croutons some without; some carps are baked, some roasted, some fried and sometimes there is actually a chicken fillet instead of a fish- for those who don’t fancy the tiny bones. Oh and what about potato salad? With carrot, with salami, with mayo, with yoghurt, or without.
Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?
It’s said that little baby Jesus delivers the presents on the evening of the 24th December – he’s supposed to ring a bell when he arrives and drops the presents off by the Christmas tree. These days I wonder how he would do all this on the day he was born. But, I have a memory of there being that little bit of magic, when we were ALL sat at the table and a bell rang from the sitting room, and when we went there after dinner; the presents were underneath the tree. We were pretty sure as kids- nothing was there before we went to eat.
Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?
The presents you get vary really – from the soft one no-one really wants when they are a child, and then really values as they grow older (like socks or woolly hats); to really great and surprising stuff. Under the family Christmas tree, there have always been some nicely smelling and pampering gifts, handmade things (especially when I was a kid and when I was really skint as a student) as well as practical upgrades for our home.
The photo is a small pre-Christmas celebration because my mum and my grandma have birthdays on 22nd December – we would usually find time to have some canapes/nibbles together, toast and cut a birthday cake which would be made by someone with great patisserie skills locally – always fantastic!