Czech Traditions: Christmas Carp

About a month ago someone told me to be on the lookout for tubs of carp being sold on the street for Christmas dinner. I immediately imagined bath tubs of carp. Claw foot bath tubs on the side of the street with carp. Unfortunately, there are only plastic tubs of carp – no bath tubs. But to my glee, there are tubs EVERYWHERE. Where there are Christmas trees, there seems to be carp. A LOT of carp. For some reason, I have always been overwhelmingly excited at seeing fish in contained units – whether it be exotic-looking fish in a personal fish tank, sharks in an aquarium, or lobster in a grocery store’s tank. I clearly get excited by weird things.
Carp TubsOn Christmas Eve, Czechs have a very large dinner – sometimes several courses including: mushroom/sauerkraut/fish soup as an appetizer, carp and potato salad as the main dish, with apple strudel for dessert. According to tradition, dinner is not to be served until the first star has appeared in the sky after sunset.

Anywhere from a day to a few weeks before Christmas, they will purchase carp from one of these sellers in one of two ways. The first way is to ask for the entire carp, alive, and then to keep it in their bathtub as a pet. The second is to have the professionals cut it up for you. Most seemed to be doing the latter.
Buying CarpOne of my students told me about the year he bought a live carp. Per tradition, he kept it in his bathtub a few weeks before, allowing his children to name the carp (BIG mistake). When it came time to kill the carp for dinner, the children refused and implored their Dad not to. Eventually, they convinced him to release the carp into the wild – aka the Vltava River (the main river in the middle of the city).

Safe to say, I won’t be purchasing any carp: alive or dead. If I were to cook some carp for our Christmas dinner, I was told to soak it in milk beforehand to avoid a mud-taste. I think I’ll get some next year…when I (hopefully) know more Czech.

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