It is that magical time of the year again! It is time for celebrations, miracles, presents, festive mood and shining lights! Yes, it is Christmas time! Visitors and expats living in the Czech Republic may be wondering how do the Czechs celebrate the most wonderful time of the year, so let’s take a look how does Czech Christmas look like!
Christmas starts at the end of November
Usually, Czech Christmas season starts at the end of November with the opening of the impressive Christmas markets (Vanocni trh). They are a key ingredient of the festive magic in the Czech Republic. The markets light up the cities, bringing locals and tourists together to share the spirit, in a true ‘winter wonderland’ setting.
Visitors and residents can enjoy various of traditional smells and flavors, hot wine, and punch, tasty food. Moreover, the brightly decorated wooden huts sell traditional handicrafts which are the perfect Christmas gifts: glassware, jewelry, embroidered lace, wooden toys, metalware, ceramics, scented candles, Christmas tree ornaments, hats, gloves and scarves, and puppets and dolls beautifully dressed in traditional costumes.
The Christmas markets are usually open daily, including on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
The official Christmas celebrations traditionally start with St.Nicholas Day on 5th December. It is the most popular advent holiday in the Czech Republic. St. Nicholas is believed to come on December 5th (bringing apples, nuts, and candies), along with his friends, a devil – who carries a whip, and takes the naughty children away, and an angel who appeals on their behalf.
The holiday is a reminder that baby Jesus is on his way, and a day where good children receive small gifts, chocolates, apples, etc. and those children who behaved naughty through out the year are said to receive potatoes and coal. After the children’s treats, St. Nicholas shares a toast with the parents.
A carp in the bathtub
The featured meal for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner in the Czech Republic is not turkey, like in many other countries, but fried carp. The side dishes include potato salad and boiled red cabbage.
The most curious fact about the Christmas dinner is that the carp is bought alive a week before that night or a few days prior it. The carp is kept alive in the bathtub until ready for cooking on the day of Christmas Eve! When preparing the fish, you have to clean it from fish-scales and that is when Czech tradition comes in hand. If you put one clean fish-scale into your wallet, the Czechs believe that it should bring you more money in the new year.
It is Baby Jesus (Ježíšek) who brings the presents on Christmas Eve, rather than Santa Claus!
Believe it or not, in the Czech Republic it is not the Santa Claus who brings the presents for the kids on Christmas, but the Baby Jesus! Ježíšek is said to reside high in the mountains, in the town of Boží Dar, where a post office accepts and stamps letters addressed to him. On Christmas Eve, children leave the room where the Christmas tree has been put up until they hear the tinkle of a bell (rung by parents) indicating that Baby Jesus has come with gifts.
Christmas Eve dinner
The most important day is Christmas Eve when traditionally the tree is decorated, and the family gathers for a feast after fasting all day. Tradition says the meal should not be served until the first star comes out. Christmas in the Czech Republic means plenty of delicious food.
The table is traditionally covered in foods that have been grown by themselves throughout the year, such as mushrooms, saurkraut, garlic, goats, dried fruits, black kuba, etc. Undoubtedly, the most important part of the meal is the already cooked Christmas Carp. After dinner, it is time to gather around the Christmas tree and open gifts which Ježíšek has already brought.
Christmas Day and St. Stephens Day
(Štědrý den and Sv. Štěpán)
These two days (December 25th and 26th) are known as First and Second Christmas Holidays in the Czech Republic. Today they are enjoyed by relaxing with friends and family and enjoying the special time of the year together. Although, traditionally, it was a time when people came together and went door to door singing Christmas carols.
Of course, it is not Christmas without cakes and cookies. The baking starts well in advance, at the beginning of the Advent, and people indulge in sweets through the entire Christmas season. Some favorites are the sweet and aromatic vanilla crescents, “wasp nests”, marmalade cookies known as Linz, gingerbread cookies, Vánočka, a sweet white dough with raisins, and apple strudels.