There are many traditions observed during Advent and Christmas in the Czech Republic. Some of them are more common, other are rather regional but all af them are beautiful and worth experiencing. On every Advent Sunday, we’ll publish a list of Czech Christmas traditions. In this first part of Czech Christmas Traditions we’ll tell you what happens during the advent time and before December 24 which is, for many families – the most important day of Christmas.
What is Advent
Advent starts four Sundays before December 25, at the end of November or beginning of December. Families usually decorate their homes with advent wreaths made from conifer branches. Many people make the wreaths at home or at workshops. The wreaths bear 4 candles and although nowadays everyone chooses the colors they like, originally, three of those candles had to be purple and one pink. Each candle is lit on one advent Sunday, if we follow the original color scheme, a purple candle would be lit first and it’s the candle of the prophets. Then comes the second purple candle of Bethlehem. The third candle is the pink one and it’s dedicated to the shepherds. And the last candle is purple and it’s the candle of the angels representing peace.
Advent – start of Christmas season
The Christmas in Czech Republic starts with the beginning of advent. The cities light up their Christmas trees and inaugurate the Christmas markets.
Advent wreaths and other decoration
As we already mentioned, people buy or create advent wreaths and light the first candle on the fourth Sunday before December 25. If you’d like to know how to make an advent wreath, here’s a tutorial in English.
Many people start with the overall Christmas decoration, children make typical colorful paper chains and some people even decorate their Christmas tree even though the tradition would distate to decorate it in the morning of December 24.
St. Barbara’s Day
Den Svaté Barbory is the day when unmarried girls put cherry tree branches or barborky in water. And as the tradition says, whose branch will bloom before December 24, will get married within a year and a day. This tradition is still frequently observed and so you will see a vase with cherry branches in many homes.
The traditions of St. Barbara’s night are sadly lost but let us at least tell you what they were. Women dressed up in white to resemble St. Barbara, a symbol of innocency. They went house to house all around the village with a little broom in their hand. They brought sweets to the good children – fresh and dried fruit and sugar hearts – and whipped the naughty ones with the brooms. Later, when the women stopped doing their annual tour, the children placed a light at their windows and a plate behind it for St. Barbara to leave them some sweets. This tradition was replaced by Mikuláš just two days later.
Mikuláš is the common name for the events that take place at the night before St. Nicolas’ Day, the night of December 5. Groups of people dress up like Mikuláš – St. Nicolas, čert – the devil and anděl – the angel. They go around the town and enter people’s houses (some of these groups have been booked, others wait to be invited). Mikuláš reads about each child in his book and says if they behaved well or not. The devil, who usually carries a potato sack and rattles a chain, scares the children and the angel gives them sweets. Older children are required to sing a song or recite a poem. Nowadays, some psychologists criticize this custom, however, Czech children are obviously no snowflakes because adult Czechs across generations remember their childhood St. Nicolas’ Day with love and nostalgy.
Some families celebrate this night in a way that is much closer to the historical St. Barbara’s Night. The children hang a stocking outside their window and at night they find sweets in it. Well, sweets and usually also some potatos and coal because they’ve also been a little naughty;-) Many families still stick to the tradition and fill their children’s stockings with fruit and just very little sweets.
Nativity scenes are a big part of Czech Christmas. It’s the centerpiece of many households and even those who don’t have it at home seek the nativity scenes at the Christmas markets. Very popular are also expositions of nativity scenes that open in advent time. Parents often create nativity scenes with their children from paper or wood, skilled bakers use also gingerbread.
Children receive an advent calendar on December 1 to count down the days to Christmas. Typically, the calendars can be bought in form of thin cardboard boxes with 24 doors and a small piece of chocolate behind each door. However, more and more parents prefer to craft an original and reusable advent calendar for their children.
Baking Christmas cookies
Baking Christmas cookies is the national sport of Czech housewives and especially grandmas! Before Christmas you will hear heated conversations of traditional homemakers about how many types of Christmas cookies they baked this year. And it’s not just the impressive number of types but also enormous amounts of each! The most traditional Czech Christmas cookies are medové perníčky (honey-gingerbread cookies), linecké cukroví (Linzer cookies), vanilkové rohlíčky (vanilla rolls), úly (beehives) and ořechy (walnut cookies).
We really hope you liked the first part of our series Czech Christmas Traditions and don’t forget to come back next Sunday for more in the Christmas cathegory!