Learn about the New Year celebrations in the Czech Republic, the traditional ones as well as the more recent ones.
While the Christmas celebrations are more intimate and the most important days are celebrated with the closest family, New Year’s Eve is for partying and friends. And the New Year is a time for reflection, resolutions and traditions.
Folkloric New Year Celebrations
Saying Good Bye to the Old Year
Some of the traditional Czech New Year celebrations come from the pre-Christian times, others are based on myths mixed with Christian beliefs.
People attributed magical powers to the last night of the year. Maids and housewives had to collect the last drying laundry and new laundry shouldn’t be hung or washed that day because hanging laundry on the last day meant somebody from the family would hand themselves the next year. In some areas, people weren’t supposed to broom or make noise.
Not all the prohibitions were so serious. Whoever got up last was the subject of jokes and ridicule on that day. Other customs were more practical, like the advice to resolve all debts before the year ends in order to start the new year fresh. Some families also did a big cleaning and burnt all the things they didn’t use anymore. People paid special attention to their personal hygiene and washed themselves well to enter the new year clean.
At night, the old and new year were believe to fight – on the church roof, on the meadow, on the bridge. At dinner, Christmas Eve meal was served and Christmas tree lit.
Old women dressed in black or white and wearing a white scarf or even a white veil over their faces went house to house sweeping the stove to exorcise bad spirits.
Welcoming the New Year
The new year brought not only joy and expectations but also fear from the future. Therefore, our Czech forefathers performed certain rituals which they believe would bring them health, luck and wealth in the upcoming year.
An old saying goes like this:
Jak na Nový rok, tak po celý rok.
It means that whatever you do on New Year (January 1) you’ll do the whole year. People naturally tried to do their best on this day, there were supposed to be no arguments and neighbors wished each other to have a blessed year. In some regions, the whole family was supposed to sit together at breakfast, in other regions at dinner.
The first visit to the house was just as important. While young people, especially men, would bring prosperity, if a household was first visited by an old female (in some regions any female), it would bring bad luck.
In Moravian Slovakia (Slovácko), January 1 was the end of the service season of young girls. They would be on vagace (vacation) until January 6, the Three Kings’ Day. The first day of the year was the day when the male servants came back to work after their vacation (which started on December 26) and so they celebrated the so called “changing of the service”. The girls would bake koláče with twigs for decoration.
According to a regional custom of Městec Králové, girls could find out what profession their future husbands would be. If a girl took an apple at Christmas Eve dinner and kept it in a handkerchief, she should take it out on New Year and eat it in front of her house while people went home from the mass. The first man who would pass by would be of the profession of her future husband.
As for food, people wouldn’t eat meat from animals with feathers because their luck would fly away. The same with fish – the luck could swim away. A plateful of lentils would help your wealth grow and lentils were sometimes eaten with a fried egg which symbolizes new life. Maids would bake koláče or vánočka with coins or peas. Another “food trick” to assure wealth was to eat some fish that one would keep from the Christmas Eve dinner.
Throwing peas in one’s home would assure no one would get lost next year.
New year was often welcomed with music, often times it would be the night watch who sang songs on his route through the town.
Modern New Year Celebrations
Nowadays, all kind of celebrations are common. Generally, these celebrations are more vivid than Christmas. Those who stay at home, invite friends over, play games, drink wine and eat chlebíčky. Sparklers are a usual element of the New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Many people go out to enjoy parties and fireworks.
Some of the old traditions that are still kept is eating of the lentils and believing that what you do on the 1st of January is what you’ll commonly do during the whole year.
New Year’s resolutions have become very popular as well as reflecting on last year’s ones.