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Christmas In Czechoslovakia

Say Merry Christmas in Czechoslovakia

Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce

Centuries ago, the western half of Czechoslovakia was known as Bohemia. This was the 10th century home of Good King Wenceslaus, the main character in the familiar English Christmas carol. It is said that English troops, fighting in Bohemia hundreds of years later, brought the song home with them.


In Czechoslovakia, St. Nicholas is called Svaty Mikalas and is believed to climb to earth down from heaven on a golden rope along with his companions: an angel and a whip-carrying devil.


An ancient tradition shared by Czechoslovakia and Poland involves cutting a branch from a cherry tree putting it in water indoors to bloom. If the bloom opens in time for Christmas it is considered good luck, and also a sign that the winter may be short. The hope of early spring helps keep spirits up during the long dark winter.


Christmas tree and Christmas Eve

Christmas trees are usually decorated on Christmas Eve, December 24, or earlier in some families. Nativity scenes are arranged, Christmas presents are wrapped and preparations for Christmas dinner are made. The Czech traditional Christmas dinner consists of fish soup, breaded fried carp fillets and potato salad. As the Christmas menu varies from region to region as well as family to family, there are indeed a whole host of recipes used. Tourists can also enjoy the Czech Christmas atmosphere as most of the restaurants and hotels offer traditional Czech Christmas meals.


The tradition of decorating Christmas trees is not very old in the Czech Republic. Legend has it that the first Christmas tree in Prague was erected for Christmas in 1812 at the Liben Chateau by the director of the Theater of the Estates J. K. Liebich for his guests. Soon after, the Czech aristocracy and wealthy townspeople followed his lead and in the 1840, the tradition of Christmas tree decorating was wide-spread. In the past, trees were decorated with sweets, various folk ornaments made from wood, ginger bread or dough, although nowadays they have mostly been replaced by blown glass and colorful tinsel. However, traditional ornaments made from natural materials are slowly making their comeback including straw ornaments, apples, nuts and the orange fruit of the Chinese lantern plant. Originally, the Christmas tree was hung tip-down, not standing upright. Nowadays, the trees are taken down on the day of the Magi or the following Sunday.


Christmas is a family holiday where no one should stay home alone. That’s why the entire family usually meets at the Christmas dinner table and if someone lives alone, they are invited over by friends or neighbors. The festive dinner is followed by the special moment which children look forward to all year long – unwrapping the presents from under the tree that were left by baby Jesus. To get the presents they wished for, many children write letters to baby Jesus before Christmas. On Christmas Eve, baby Jesus enters each home and leaves presents under the tree. He lights the candles and lights on it and then disappears without being seen just before the Christmas bell rings. Christmas carols are usually sung under the lit Christmas tree. The most famous are: Christ the King is Born (originated in the 15th century), Wanting Him to Fall Asleep (17th century), Merry Feast of Yuletide (late 17th century), Come All Ye Shepherds (from 1847) and Silent Night (originally Austrian from 1818), as well as Czech carols: Pujdem spolu do Betléma (Come Together to Bethlehem), Stojí vrba kosatá, Dej Buh stestí (May God Bless You).


At midnight, people usually go to church for J. J. Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass.


Old Czech Traditions

Christmas Eve used to be a day of strict fasting in the past, accompanied by a slew of folk traditions from manifold superstitions to poetic customs. Parents promised their children that they would see a golden piglet if they keep the fast. People also believed that there could not be an odd number of people sitting at a Christmas table therefore, they would be sure to invite guests ahead of time. Dinner has always been plentiful with several courses. The old traditional meals included Cerny Kuba (Black Jack or barley and mushroom casserole), pea or lentil soup, fruit, nuts, apples, roasted flat bread. Sometimes people would eat fish but it was not very common, as it was thought to be a meal fit for fasting. Not until the 19th century did carp find its way onto the Czech Christmas table.


Folk traditions and superstitions

Christmas Eve according to the popular belief, was an ideal day for performing various folk customs. These fall in three groups: taboos, fortune telling and superstitions concerning fertility and abundance.




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