Czech Christmas Traditions
In the Czech Republic, the main holiday celebration is on Christmas Day, which is always on December 24th. This is the most festive day of the year when families get together and the day when all the presents are given. Christmas in the Czech Republic is a holiday full of various traditions and superstitions. Every household has four Advent Candles in an Advent Wreath. These candles symbolize the four Sundays of Advent. On each Sunday, another candle is lit and the fourth one can sometimes be on Christmas Day.
During the whole Christmas day people prepare for the evening, they cook dinner and decorate the Christmas tree. Families watch fairy tales on television together and eat Cukrovi (Christmas Cookies) or Vanocka (sweet braided bread).
Some families spend their day by practicing customs focused on foretelling the future or marriage. The cutting of an apple in half is still being practiced in most households. The apple is cut crosswise, and if both halves have the core shaped as a star, it is a sign of good health. One custom particularly liked by children is making little boats from walnut shells with candles inside. These boats are placed in a bowl with water and if the boat sinks, it brings bad luck to the owner. Some girls also throw their shoe over their back to foretell their marriage. If the tip of the shoe points to the door, it means the girl will marry and leave the house within a year.
On Christmas Eve there is a traditional big dinner, consisting of a fish soup made of carp, fried carp or pork cutlet with potato salad. A fish scale is placed under every plate to bring money to the household. These fish scales are usually later carried in wallets for personal wealth. The dinner is the main meal of the day, as opposed to ordinary days. Some people believe if they fast the whole day, they will see a golden pig in the evening as a sign of a good luck. One rather morbid superstition says that no one should leave the table before everybody is finished eating, or they will bring misfortune and death to the family. Many families also have an extra place setting for an unexpected guest and everybody should finish their meal completely and leave nothing on the plate.
Children believe that during the dinner Jezisek (Little Jesus) brings the presents and hides them under the decorated Christmas tree. Jezisek doesn’t have any distinctive looks, but he’s mostly pictured as a little baby. Children write him a wish-list of toys they would like to receive for Christmas a few weeks before the holidays and leave it by the window for him to take. Some families sing carols before opening the gifts and light candles during the singing. Religious families go to local church at midnight for a Midnight Mass.
Christmas holidays and celebrations last from the 24th to 26th December and are national holidays. The days after Christmas Day are called First and Second Christmas Holidays or Bozi hod vanocni (Christmas Feast) and Svaty Stepan (Saint Stephen’s Day). On these days people relax and visit other relatives and extended family exchange presents. Children like Christmas mostly because of the presents they receive, but people should realize this holiday isn’t about the presents or the stress of buying them, it’s about families getting together.