Tuesday, 23 December 2008

folk traditions - Christmas in Bohemia

I'm no expert on the subject, but find it fascinating to compare traditions so here are some for those who might also be interested:

For the Czechs, like the most of the mid-Europeans, the most important part of the Christmas celebrations is Christmas eve. The tree doesn't get dressed until then, and both the main dinner and the present-giving take place that same evening. The presents under the tree are from Baby Jesus, not Santa (though the marketing people work hard to globalise the Czech Christmas, and in many cases are succeeding - for one thing, jolly Santa is easier to turn into blow-up or cuddly toys. However, a huge petition online 'keep our Baby Jesus' is a sure sign of some resistance :-) and after all, the Czechs still have their Saint Nicholas going strong)

Although carp is now the main item on the Christmas eve table, is was not always thus. For centuries carp was a fish kept by the aristocracy in own ponds so folk had crayfish, snails etc. But most had soup or gruel just like every day, except made a bit more special by adding as many ingredients as they were able to (Štědrovka= Plentiful soup, as the Christmas eve is in Czech the 'Eve of Plenty'). And then something sweet, mostly using dried fruit and honey. The idea for the Christmas dinner table was to use everything that the homestead gave: a bit of grain, a bit of fruit, root vegetables, legumes. And everything had some significance: red apple as symbol of life and health, peas or beans as symbol of plenty because they expand when cooking, nuts as symbols of wealth, grain as symbol of eternal cycle. And there would be a plate set for any member of family who died in the previous year. The head of the family would then go and give of the dinner to all their animals (peas to the hens, garlic to the rooster, herbs to cows, etc... and even leftover bones to the fruit trees) as thanks for having provided for the family.

As Christmas is a festival of nascent Light, it carries many customs associated with the mystery of Time - most with roots stretching far back into pagan times. These I shall tell you about in my next post.

1 comment:

Thud said...

Whatever the traditions Christmas with family,friends,good food and drink plus in my case a trip to my local cathedral is to be cherished....Merry Christmas to all here from all over the water.