Like in many other countries, Christmas is a popular festive season in the Czech Republic. If you are curious, what do Czechs do when the end of December approaches, let’s dive into this article!
Advent is a month-long season preceding Christmas time.
The word Advent comes from Latin “adventus”, meaning “arrival”. It’s indeed a special time to await the arrival of Little Jesus (see below) and prepare for the magical occasion.
Starting four Sundays before Christmas Eve, Czech families make or buy wreaths with four candles.
At the end of each week, they light one more candle on the wreath until Christmas finally comes.
The tradition of Christmas trees in the Czech Republic came from Germany and originated there in 1570 when one was erected in Bremen.
However, it took 200 years until they became a common Christmas tradition across all social classes here in Czechia.
The tree can be real as well as artificial.
In town squares, they usually come from nearby forests and are surrounded by markets and reenacted nativity scenes with goats or sheep.
At some places, you are allowed to pet the animals. This makes visiting Christmas markets even more exciting!
In households, the trees are smaller and decorated with Christmas balls, fringes and even comets on the tops.
On 24 December, the family gathers there and waits for Ježíšek.
Little Jesus – Ježíšek
Little Jesus, in Czech called Ježíšek, is the character bringing Christmas presents.
This fictitious person is rumoured to be invisible and, therefore, is never depicted.
According to Czech traditions, Little Jesus arrives in the evening. The family gathers, but leaves the room where the Christmas tree is placed so that Little Jesus not be disturbed.
Once Ježíšek is done with putting gifts under the Christmas tree, the bell rings and everyone comes to start unpacking.
Czech Christmas Cookies
It’d be hard to imagine Christmas without delicious food and Czechs are no exception.
Traditionally, we bake special kinds of Christmas cookies here in the Czech Republic.
Here are some delicious examples:
- Vosí hnízda, beehives, liquor candies resembling wasp nests
- Linecké cukroví, small rounds and circles with jam, and so forth.
- Vanilkové rohlíčky, vanilla flavored crescent cookies
Not only are they candies, but they’re also eye candies!
Those who love Christmas cookies but don’t want to bake them can buy them at local candy shops.
Vánočka is a traditional sweet pastry from Czechia.
In US English, the term is translated as Christmas braided bread, which perfectly describes what it looks like.
If you are an American having Czech roots, you might have heard other words, such as “houska” or “calta”.
But beware: If you visit a bakery in the Czech Republic and ask for a “houska”, you won’t get the sweet braided bread, but a bread roll that Czechs eat together with ham or butter!
If you want to be on the safe side, always ask for a “vánočka”.
Here is what we Czechs call houska these days.
Christmas Eve Fasting
The fasting tradition dates back to Celtic times when the inhabitants of Czechia were pagans.
At that time, they celebrated the winter solstice with fasting.
If someone managed to stay the whole day until dinner without food, they were rewarded with a vision of a golden pig.
Why exactly this animal? In Celtic mythology, a pig signifies wealth and prosperity.
Christmas Eve Dinner
After the first star appears in the sky, the whole family gathers and eats Christmas Eve dinner.
The Czech traditional meal is a carp with potato salad and you can see fish stalls in the streets of towns in December where you can buy one.
However, some people prefer eating a schnitzel (řízek) instead.
Traditionally, a piece of fish scale or a coin is placed under the plate so that enough money come next year.
On Christmas Eve, there is exactly one week left until the last day of the year.
This day is known as “Silvestr” in Czechia as it’s the saint day of Sylvester.
Interested what Czechs do on New Year's Eve?
Czech believe that the last days of the year can tell us what future awaits us.
Therefore, many Czechs participate in fortune-telling activities, such as cutting apples and looking for patterns within apple seeds.
If you find a cross-like pattern, beware! You should be careful as bad things are about to come.
But if you find a star-like shape in your apple, it means that the future looks promising!
Christmas Day Vigil
At night of the Christmas Day, a vigil is held at church.
This event is not only attended by Christians, but also by Czechs that don’t adhere to any religion.
Traditionally, Jakub Jan Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass is played and sung. Ryba, the composer and the lyricist, wrote the song in 1796.
As we can see, Czech Christmas traditions are truly rich and alive.
If you want to observe these traditions, visit the Czech Republic or just a Czech community elsewhere!