Day 17 of Advent: Foretelling the Future

If someone told you that there is a famous poem about Christmas Eve you’d probably think that it must be some warm story about a beautiful snowy Christmas. If that’s the case then I have to disappoint you. The poem “Christmas Eve” (“Štědrý den” in Czech) was written by K. J. Erben, and it’s a dark tale about foretelling the future on Christmas eve. But don’t worry, the actual tradition is much less gloomy.

Tradition Older than Christmas

Divination and Christianity don’t go very well together and one pretty much opposes the other. It was considered witchcraft and anyone practising divination (and therefore witchcraft) was promptly put to trial and burned at a stake. Yet the tradition survived. After all, Christmas, just like Easter (for example), is originally a pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice that Christians later adopted and changed to their own image. It was not because they liked it as much as it was a tool that helped them to Christianize pagans. Pagans were eventually Christianized and were even able to keep some of their traditions as part of the celebration of Christmas. This also includes the tradition of predicting the future on Christmas Eve; much to the early Medieval Christians’ dislike.

Will I Get Married?

There are many techniques of foretelling the future depending on what kind of question you have or what object will be used. For example, young women had several ways of finding out whether they would get married the following year and what the name of their future husband would be. 

One of them was to grab a shoe and throw it over their shoulder in the direction of the door. Should the shoe fall with its front side directed at the door, she will get married, possibly even far from home. If the shoe falls with its outsole upwards or with its front side directed into the room, the woman will remain single. There are also variants that don’t include marriage, though. For example, if the shoe ends up on the ground with its front side directed at the door, the person will either move out or travel abroad. Maybe this way it is also possible to predict if the borders will be closed due to the COVID-19

If the woman wanted to know the name of her suitor too, she could use an apple peel. She would just spin it three times above her head and then toss it away. The shape in which she would find it lying on the ground would reveal the first letter of her future husband’s name. When I was a kid, I eagerly tried this and as you can imagine, I’d always (and very unsurprisingly) get some very round and curved letter such as “O” or “S”.

And what was the divination technique the poem mentioned at the beginning of this article? If you live near a pond, lake or another large body of water that freezes over winter, you can take an axe, make a hole in the ice and then wait if you see anything. That way you should be able to tell if you get married the next year and who your husband will be. As you can imagine, this technique is not particularly popular anymore. Oh, and yes, this technique only applies to single women just like the ones mentioned above. Sorry, gentlemen.

Some traditional techniques of foretelling the future include edibles, while some include shoes.

Shall I be Healthy?

There are also many ways of predicting how long you will live whether you will be healthy. Probably the most popular one is cutting apples. You can simply cut an apple in half and if the apple seeds in the middle look like a star, you will be healthy; if the seeds form a cross, it means illness or even death. 

Similarly to this you can also use walnut shells as boats and predict how long you will live. Simply crack a walnut, take out the nut which is inside and instead of it put a little candle into the shell. Then light the candle and put the “boat” into a bowl with water – you can then predict your future from how far away the “boat” floats from the brim of the bowl. If it stays stuck to the brim, don’t worry – it just means you will stay at home. So, at least you’ll be still alive.

One could also say that these techniques double as a great and cheap (though not very reliable) test for COVID-19.

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What Awaits Me?

If you have no specific question about your future, then there are several other techniques that you can try. Probably the most popular one is molybdomancy – an old technique of divination using molten metal. You just have to warm up a bit of metal – typically lead or tin – and pour it into a bowl or bucket of cold water. Then you’d try to predict your future from the shape the molten metal would create. However, remember that you must not use the utensils and objects you normally use (such as spoons etc.) because lead is toxic. By the way, this technique appeared in one famous scene of the movie Pelíšky – traditionally associated with Christmas.

If you don’t like fooling around with toxic metals, there are much safer techniques, though. One of them is, for example, cracking walnuts – if the walnut you open is nice and healthy, expect happiness and luck; if the walnut is all black and shrunken, your life will be full of bad luck and pain. You can then use the shells to turn them into little “boats” and use them to tell how long your life will be as mentioned before. And the nuts can be, of course, used in some Christmas treat – why not make a tasty Vanilla Crescents, for example?

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Anna Minjaríková

Hello, readers! My job is to provide you with some interesting tips and useful information about all the things Czech. ♫ I'll be there for you! ♫

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