Christmas 2017 and 2018
In Czech Republic, the “Christmas spirit” begins weeks before Christmas actually arrives. On December 5th, it is Saint Nicholas’ Day, a day when Santa arrives accompanied by both angels and devils to either give out candies and fruits or a lump of coal, depending on how good or bad they have been during the previous year.
|2017||24 Dec||Sun||Christmas Eve|
|25 Dec||Mon||Christmas Day|
|26 Dec||Tue||2nd Day of Christmas|
|2018||24 Dec||Mon||Christmas Eve|
|25 Dec||Tue||Christmas Day|
|26 Dec||Wed||2nd Day of Christmas|
Although Czech Republic is one of the most secular nations on the planet, they nonetheless have many longstanding Christmas traditions that are still commonly practiced today. Roman Catholicism is far and away the leading religion, but only 10 percent of the population consider themselves Roman Catholics.
Several weeks before Christmas, “Jezisek” (Baby Jesus) takes on a role much like that of Santa in other countries. Children send out letters to him, informing him of what they want for Christmas. Later, on Christmas Eve, Jezisek sneaks presents under the Christmas tree while everyone is enjoying Christmas dinner. Just after dinner is finished but before anyone has left the table yet, a bell will be heard ringing. That is the sign to go open presents brought by Jezisek, and in many families, to then sing Christmas carols together around the tree.
Christmas Eve is called “Stedry Den” in Czech, meaning “Generous Day.” This is likely because it is has long been a day of abundant feasting, even for poorer families. It is a day to be generous to everyone, even household pets getting their share of the Christmas meal. Dinner is not served until the sun goes down, so it is really “late-night Christmas dining.”
The Czechs are very superstitious when it comes to Christmas. They have a long litany of superstitions, and we can only mention a few here.
First, there is the belief that, if you fast on Christmas Eve up until dinner time, you may well see a “vision” of Zlate Prasatko (the golden piglet) on the wall. Such a sight is supposed to bring you good luck. Also, it is thought bad luck to leave anything uneaten on the Christmas dinner table or to be the first one to get up and leave the table after eating. Thus, all traditionally get up simultaneously.
Then there is the belief that casting a shoe over your shoulder, should it land with the toe-end pointing towards a door, indicates you will soon be married.
Finally, some hold a “walnut shell floating contest.” Each person puts a lit candle into a hollow walnut shell, which is then floated across a bowl of water. All shells are on the water simultaneously, and those whose walnut shells sink before crossing the bowl will have bad luck.
Also note that, in Czech Republic, December 26th is celebrated as well as “Second Christmas.” More formally, it is called “Saint Stephen’s Day.” It used to be a day to go caroling, but most now just relax at home or visit friends and family.
Those touring Czech Republic for Christmas may want to consider taking part in any of the following activities:
- Go to a midnight mass service, like many of the more religiously inclined Czechs still do. They normally start at midnight, but some begin around 10pm. During the afternoon, there are sometimes special Christmas services just for kids.
- Go shopping for “Christmas carp” downtown. The streets and squares are filled with ponds and tanks with carp in them to accommodate the high sales this time of year. Many will keep their carp at home in a bathtub and treat it like a pet until Christmas Eve, when it becomes carp soup or fried carp on the dinner table.
- Enjoy a full Czech Christmas meal, either in the home of a Czech friend or in a restaurant. Besides carp, look for mushroom soup, sauerkraut, potato salad, dried and fresh fruits, apple strudel, and “vanocka” (Christmas bread). Note that vanocka is now available all year, making it “Christmas bread” in name only. The traditional meal has nine courses, which helps explains why some people fast until dinner is served.
Czech Republic is a land that is steeped in unique Christmas traditions, even if only barely religious, and the tourist will find much to keep him entertained.