In the first part of the Czech Christmas Traditions series we talked about the Advent traditions. The second part was all about Czech Christmas food and this time we will tell you all about the Czech Christmas traditions at the most important day of Czech Christmas, the so called Štědrý den (The Generous Day).
In the Czech Republic, the most important day of Christmas to many families is December 24. It’s based on the German tradition which, by the way, is the way the British queen still celebrates Christmas.
Decorating the Christmas tree
The tradition says to decorate the Christmas tree on December 24, however, many families decide to do so at the beginning of advent and there are also families who let baby Jesus (Ježíšek) decorate it. Lots of Czech people stick to the tradition and decorate their tree on December 24 in the morning although they would buy it weeks before.
Don’t take out the trash!
An old tradition says not to broom or take out any trash on Štědrý den because you’d be throwing out your luck.
Cutting an apple in half is a widely spread Christmas tradition in the Czech Republic. It is believed that if you see a star, you’ll have luck in the upcoming year.
Predicting future from lead
Now this is an interesting one although not many people keep this tradition. People melt lead, pour it in cold water and then predict the future based on the shape of the casting.
Binding the table legs together
Especially the rural families used to believe that binding the legs of the table together with a chain was important to assure that all the people around the table stayed together the next year.
Food leftovers were given to the trees and animals to assure a fruitful year.
Throwing a shoe
Young unmarried girls used to throw a shoe on Štědrý den. If the shoe pointed towards the house door, it meant the girl would get married the next year.
Even number at the table
An odd number of people around the Christmas table is supposed to bring bad luck. That’s why many families still set the table for an odd number of people even if one plate isn’t going to be used.
Other people’s things
Every homemaker should return things which belong to other people before the Christmas dinner. All the things that don’t get back to their owner will bring bad luck to the household.
Apparently getting married was the objective of many of the Czech Christmas traditions and this is another one. The girl from the household who managed to collect the most corners of the Christmas pastry vánočka would get married next year. It wasn’t so easy though because cutting corners wasn’t allowed, you had to wait until the whole vánočka was eaten.
This is a very beautiful tradition. People place little candles in nut shells and then let these float in a bucket or bowl with water.
Mistletoe is supposed to hang over the door to bring luck and if you kiss under it, the luck is double-assured!
Dinner time is usualy quite early on December 24, sometimes even right after it gets dark which can be as early as 4 pm. We told you what Czechs eat for dinner that day in this article so you know the star of the dinner is fried carp. People keep the scales of this fish and put them under the dinner plate to become rich next year. Some even keep the scale in their wallet.
Christmas presents and singing
After the dinner come the presents. First of all, the family gathers at the Christmas tree to sing koledy – the traditional Christmas songs. They sing for the baby Jesus, who is called Ježíšek and he is the one who brings presents in the Czech Republic (telling the Czechs that Santa brings presents is a huge no-no!).
Families with little children usually try to keep the magic in the story and tell the children that it is really baby Jesus who brings all the presents. This means the family has to come up with a way to get the children away from the tree and then put the presents there without the children noticing. One of the usual ways is one of the parents going to “check” whether the presents are already there. In some families it is Ježíšek who decorates the tree and he rings a small bell when he is done with the presents.
And as you might have guessed, the Czech open their presents that same evening, that is the evening of December 24.
Many people go to church at midnight of December 24. Surprisingly, even those who are not religious often keep this tradition alive and go to see the midnight mass.
How do you like the traditions of the most magical day of the year? Do some of them sound familiar? Browse the Christmas cathegory to find out more about Czech Christmas!