Written by Stepan Hanzlik
Learn more about St. Stephen’s Day Carols in Studenec
The small village of Studenec in Jilemnice is one of the last places where “Stepanska koleda” is still alive. It’s an old Czech tradition; yet many people don’t know much about it. Everything started in 1954. On the 26th of December, a group of friends in Studenec decided to celebrate St. Stephen’s name day. They went from house to house to visit neighbors and wish them luck in the coming new year. They stayed for a while, drank or ate something, and then they went to another house. The group grew bigger and bigger as the other villagers became interested in joining in on the action, and it became a tradition in this village after just a few years.
Carolers still visit neighbors in their village. The only thing that has changed over time is that children also join in with the group of carolers. It is similar to small children in the USA trick-or-treating on Halloween, but here it’s a little different. Czech people don’t wear scary costumes and don’t decorate their houses. Some people wear typical folk costumes, but mostly wear just normal clothes. It’s more comfortable to go in casual clothes than in tight folk costumes.
The journey starts in church. They go from the church to the parish office where they eat their breakfast, usually consisting of hot tea or coffee and sausages. After breakfast, they begin “trick-or-treating,” or as they say in Studenec, “jít na koladu.” Previously, people caroled in one large group. Nowadays, they are divided into two groups, women and men, and usually go in three or four smaller groups, so they can easily visit all the houses. When carolers come to your house, they sing carols. The most famous carols in Studenec are Silent Night or Pasli Ovce Valasi. After that, while not required, many people offer the carolers a token of appreciation. Some give money, food, sweets for small children, or alcohol for adults. Most typical is food which the families prepare. Sandwiches, baked rabbit, and fruits are very popular. All families bake Christmas cookies or gingerbread, too. So, if you prefer sweet food, you won’t be disappointed. If carolers get some money, they don’t spend it. They donate it for charity. Especially for victims of floods in the Czech Republic, or for victims of earthquakes and tsunamis in other countries. So, it’s proof that many good people live in Studenec. There also exists a chronicle of this action where the records are kept and there are very nice photos. Everyone has to sign up in the chronicle before the start.
If you are interested in the details of “Stepanska koleda ve Studenci,” you should visit this small village and see how amazing this Czech tradition is. You can also visit the Podkrkonosske Museum in Jilemnice. There is a helpful guide, as well as plenty of useful information and many nice photos.