This is the first time in 35 years I have not been home with my family to spend Christmas. Even though I could not be at home with my family, I was lucky enough to spend a Czech Christmas with my Czech family. The Czech have some wonderful traditions they celebrate. There are many similarities to an American Christmas but many differences as well.
Instead of making this blog a report I am going to share my experiences so you can see the traditions that way. Czech's celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. Christmas eve they decorate the Christmas tree in the morning. It is different from the US where many of us have the Christmas tree up and decorated the day after Thanksgiving (yes....I am talking about myself here too). Christmas Eve, I went to Romana and her family's house around 12pm. When I got there, her daughters had the tree decorated so beautifully. Romana and her family don't use Christmas lights around the tree, they put candles in walnut shells to give it light. It really gave it an old feeling.
When we got back, Romana began cooking the traditional Czech Christmas dinner while the rest of us listened to her daughter Tereza play Christmas carols on the piano or watched tv.
In many Czech families (Romana's included) they have a tradition that once you sit down for Christmas dinner, you cannot leave the table for any reason until the last person is done eating. So everyone used the bathroom and all food was brought to the table so there would be no need to get up. Everyone dressed up for dinner and we sat down for our meal. The traditional Czech Christmas meal starts with Fish soup. It is made from the innards of the Carp. I admit I couldn't try it. I just couldn't. After the soup, you have Carp and potato salad. I tried the Carp and it wasn't too bad, I am not a huge fan so Romana also made me and her daughter Klara chicken. The potato salad is to die for tho!!! It is sooooo good.
After dinner, Zdenek had to "use the bathroom" and at the same time, a bell rang, meaning "baby Jesus" had arrived and delivered presents. The Czech's don't have Santa Claus, they have Baby Jesus. They don't know what Baby Jesus looks like, but every year, children write letters to him, and place them in the window. Baby Jesus comes and collects the letters and then brings the children presents. Only Baby Jesus brings presents to the kids. Parents, Grandparents, etc do not give kids presents, just Baby Jesus. Baby Jesus also only comes Christmas Eve night while the family is gathered in another room.
I learned that fathers usually excuse themselves to use the bathroom, hide all the presents under the tree and then rings the traditional bell, signifying that Baby Jesus has arrived.
Soooo.....we opened presents, sang Christmas Carols and enjoyed the holiday. After opening presents, we went to Romana's parents house and lucky enough for us, the bell was ringing there as we arrived too :)
The Czech's also have some traditional games/activities they do on Christmas Eve. They have to be done at night with the magic of Christmas Eve. The first activity we did was to take an apple and cut it in half horizontally. When you open the apple, if you see a star in the middle, you will have a happy, healthy life. I found a star :)
The second activity we did was to take an empty walnut shell and put a small stick candle in the shell. You light the candle and float the boat in a big bucket of water. All the family puts in their boat. If your boat stays to the edge of the bucket it means that you will stay home the following year. If you boat floats in the middle of the bucket, you will spend the year traveling, and if your boat flips over or sinks...well...not good. My boat hung on the side so I guess it means I will not travel much next year...my mom will be happy to hear this.
The third activity we did is only for girls, is to take your left slipper and with your back to the door flip the slipper over your left shoulder towards the door. If the toe of the slipper points to the door, you will get married. If the toe points away from the door, you will not get married. I did it 6 times, three times it pointed to the door, three times away. Ugh....
Even though I celebrate Christmas on the 25th, I am definitely going to be incorporating those three activities into my holiday traditions. I am just loving that I am learning new customs and cultures and that I can integrate them into my own. Hopefully my new Czech friends will be taking some of my American customs and using them as well. How cool is it that two different cultures can learn from each other.