Czech Traditions: Christmas

Merry Christmas from the Czech Republic! In recognition of our time here, I wanted to learn more about their culture and traditions. Czechs celebrate their Christmas on Christmas Eve (so Merry late Christmas to all the Czechs out there). The only way that it made sense to me was to compare it to how we celebrate the new year on New Year’s Eve. Regardless, what we (Americans) call Christmas Eve is Christmas to Czechs – Štědrý Den meaning “Generous Day”.
While Christmas trees are readily available to purchase from December 01st, most don’t decorate the tree until the morning of Christmas Eve. At least to me, that makes for a sad room – just a naked tree sitting in the middle of their living room…for a month. Traditionally, they would decorate it with apples, candies, and other ornaments.
Christmas TreesDinner is also very important for their Christmas celebrations. You can read more about their Christmas dinner here. Not to spoil anything, but they are a meat and potatoes kinda country. After (or during) dinner, the parents rush to put the presents under the tree ringing a bell as soon as they are finished signifying the visit of Ježíšek (Baby Jesus). To the children’s belief Baby Jesus visits each family’s house as soon as they finish dinner, flying in through a window to have their presents materialize under the tree (I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have wings). After the presents are opened, family time ensues with playing games, watching TV, and the adults drinking beer (obviously). At Midnight, most will take their family to a mass at one of the major churches (půlnoční mše – meaning Midnight Mass).

Baby Jesus is exclusive to the Czech Republic living in a small town in the mountains called Boží Dar where a post office accepts letters from children (similar to those sent to Santa Claus). Unlike Santa Claus, Baby Jesus has no distinct appearance – staying rather abstract. If you wish to visit Boží Dar, the highest town in the Czech Republic, make sure you make a point to visit the Baby Jesus hiking trails where children can visit various fairy land creatures and complete tasks to receive a prize from Baby Jesus.
Baby Jesus2In addition to the aforementioned traditions, there are many superstitions and traditional activities related to predicting the future. Most of these are no longer practiced but I thought them intriguing enough to share.
In relation to Christmas Dinner:
– Set the table for an even amount of people. An odd number of people brings bad luck or even death in the next year.
– The first person to leave the table will die sometime in the next year. Everyone should therefore leave the table at the same time (so everyone dies instead).
– No one should sit with their back to the door.
– Hog tie the table with rope to protect the house from thieves and robbers.
– No alchohol is to be served on Christmas Eve (clearly not practiced anymore).
– After Christmas dinner, each person cuts an apple in half (from top to bottom). If everyone sees a star in the center, then it means you will meet again in the next year in happiness and health. If there is a cross pattern instead, someone at the table will become sick or die that year.
Predictions/Superstitions:
– If there is a young maiden in the family, it is common for her to throw her shoe over her right shoulder. If the toe points towards the door, she knows that she will be married sometime that year.
– Similarily, if a young unmarried woman shakes an elder tree and a dog barks, she will not only get married sometime that year but the same direction from which the dog barked is where her future husband lives (Well, that explains the random women I have seen hugging/shaking trees lately).
– If a woman is pregnant, she will know if her child is a boy or girl based on the gender of the first visitor.
Food-Related:
– Place fish scales under plates or the tablecloth to bring wealth to the family (or smelly tablecloths).
– Garlic brings strength and protection (no wonder it helps defeat vampires). A bowl of garlic can be placed under the table (perfect snack for pets).
– Honey guards against evil. Place a pot of honey on the table to welcome Winnie the Pooh ward off evil and evil spirits.
– Mushrooms are believed to give health and strength. Mushroom soup is a common appetizer to Christmas dinner.
– A sheaf of grain can be dipped in holy water and sprinkled around the house to prevent it from burning down the next year.

Read more about Czech superstitions and traditions here. While they are all very interesting…they are also kinda morbid – “If you don’t do this you’ll die or get very ill and be close to dead.” Keep in mind that most of these traditions/superstitions are not widely followed anymore. They make for good stories though.

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