By Cindy Motsinger, Communications Coordinator
Many members of Western have a strong Czech and/or Slovak background, and celebrate their heritage in a variety of ways today. In this blog, I discuss the origins of Czech-Slovak Christmas traditions.
The Origin of Santa Claus
Santa Claus was inspired by St. Nicholas, whom is celebrated on St. Nicholas Day on December 5. If you are in Prague on the eve of St. Nicholas, you will see people dressed in costumes of St. Nicholas (Mikuláš), the Angel (anděl), and the Devil (čert). These characters stop children and ask them if they were good in the past year. If they state they were good (as most do), they will be rewarded with candy or other treats handed out by the Angel. The lore of the Devil says that he will give a sack of potatoes or coal instead of candy, but that does not really happen. St. Nicholas presents come in the form of sweets hidden in stocking somewhere in the child’s room.
In Slovakia, kids leave out their shoes on the windowsills and find them filled with presents the next day, such as fruit. If they were especially good, it is traditionally an orange. Bad children would find a piece of coal.
December 24 is known as Stedry den, which means “Generous Day,” because of the wealth of food typical on this day. The Christmas tree is decorated with traditional Czech ornaments. Many superstitions are associated with Christmas Eve.
Christmas dinner is served after sunset. They eat carp and potato salad, sometimes preceded by mushroom, sauerkraut, or fish soup. Christmas carp is special because it is raised in manmade ponds and sold in large tubs just before Christmas. Some people keep their carp in a bathtub for a few days as a child’s pet. Desserts, such as apple strudel, are then eaten.
Here are some customs practiced during Christmas dinner:
After dinner, carols are sung and the Christmas tree is enjoyed with presents under the tree. Czech children believe that the gifts are brought by Baby Jesus who comes into the room through the window. Czech children often write him wish-lists a few weeks prior to Christmas.
Some people end Christmas Eve by attending the midnight mass at the local church.
In the Czech Republic, December 25 and 26 are known as the First and Second Christmas Holidays, or the Christmas Feast and St. Stephen’s Day. On St. Stephen’s Day, families stay home or visit relatives to share time together. It is traditional to enjoy roast turkey, goose or duck on this day.
Whatever your traditions may be, Western wishes you a happy holiday and a blessed new year!
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