Great food, lots of wine, music, dancing and endless merry-making, that’s more than enough reasons to be there when hody comes!
Kermesse in English, hody in Moravia, krmáš in Silesia and posvícení in Bohemia is an annual festival commemorating the sanctification of a church (it is celebrated especially in Moravia) . Every village, town and in case of cities even every city quarter has its own in name of the local saint (usually the one the local church is dedicated to). Albeit this is a religious celebration, it has many folkloric aspects and is widely celebrated also by non-religious people. Nowadays, some people participate only in the secular parts of the festival, however, the religious parts are just as important as they always were to many.
There are actually more types of hody in Czechia, this article is about the most traditional one called also tradiční hody or krojované hody. Other types are mainly the so called babské hody and svatomartinské hody.
A little bit of history first
When the construction of a church was finished, there was still one thing to do before it could serve its purpose as a house of God. Before the first service could take place the church had to be sanctified by a bishop who dedicated the church to a saint. Originally, the kermesse was celebrated on the anniversary of the dedication, some of these dates are preserved in some cases but it’s more common now to celebrate around the day of the saint to whom the church is dedicated (the so called nameday).
When to “save the date”
It’s a great fact about hody that you can visit many of them in one year. There’s not just one day to celebrate it. Usually it is the weekend around the namesday of the local saint. The season of traditional hody is June – September, rarely also May and mid October. From July till September you can spend every weekend at hody somewhere.
Main figures of hody
There would certainly be no festival without the people who organize it all. They’re called chasa and they are the unmarried young people of the town. The boys are called stárci (singular stárek) and the girls stárky or stárkové (singular stárka or stárková). One couple is the leaders called hlavní stárek and hlavní stárka. Those are the ones with the final word on everything and they ask the mayor to award them the kermesse right.
As mentioned, the mayor of the town has an important role as well. He is the one awarding chasa the right to celebrate the kermesse and also the one establishing the rules. This is just a formality nowadays but his role used to be a very important one in the past.
Since hody is a religious celebration, the pastor is another important figure. He is the one leading the Sunday service.
How is hody celebrated
Main three days
There’s no one and only right way to celebrate hody. There is, however, a typical structure. The core of the celebration are three days – Friday till Sunday. On Friday night there’s usually an evening get-together with folkloric music (cimbalum band or brass orchestra) on which the chasa are presented to the people and the mayor awards them the kermesse right or hodové právo – the right to celebrate the festival. This is a formality and the ceremony is usually an entertaining one. Saturday is the day of the procession when the chasa is accompanied by a brass orchestra, other people from the town dressed in national clothes and everyone who wants to join the procession.
The route starts with only the men from chasa, the procession has to walk through the town and pick up every girl from chasa at her house. The mother of the girl hosts everyone (and we mean everyone present!) with traditional pastries and wine or slivovica. Often it’s not just the mothers but also other ladies from the town who decide to prepare some delicacies. Sometimes it is almost a necessity for chasa to refresh themselves as some processions can take hours. They often stop and dance to the brass orchestra’s music. The procession is followed by another music evening accessible to anyone wanting to join in. Sunday is usually the day of the church service where all chasa attends even if some of the members might not be religious.
Here is a glimpse of the right awarding ceremony – subtitled in English:
Májka – the ultimate pride
If you come to the Moravian regions any time between May and September, you could notice a tall wooden pillar decorated with ribbons in the center in many towns. This is what the locals call májka or máj and it’s an object of pride of the village and especially the chasa people. The village places májka on it’s main square in May (thus the name) and takes it down after hody. Both events are accompanied with music and celebrations. And why did we mention the pride? The tradition is that people from chasa have to guard the pillar because the neighboring villages try to cut it down and steal it. To have your májka stolen is an enormous shame. This tradition, which is by far not dead, is generating some pretty peculiar litigations today. Some towns decided to report their stolen májka as “damaging public property”. The police then has to face an uneasy decision – disregard the complaints because it’s a tradition or fine the “perpetrator”.
Food & Drinks
Alcohol is a vital part of every hody. From the very first moment stárci come out they will have smaller or larger demijohns with wine which they serve to the people using the so called koštýř which is an elongated glass taster. They suck out the air from the tube which makes the wine come it. They close the tube with a thumb and let pour the wine in your glass. Slivovice or slivovica is also a traditional drink. It’s drunk either from tiny glasses, later (especially when people get a little drunk) directly from the bottle. As you can imagine, the day usually ends with quite a lot of alcohol in everyone’s system.
In the times when there wasn’t plenty of everything, hody used to be celebrated in the short season of abundance. There was enough ripe fruit for the cake filling, wheat for flour, animals ready to be slaughtered and used for meat. It was a time of feasting. Nowadays, we can afford to feast all year long. However, hody is still special and people make the already good food even more exceptional. At the procession finger food is served. You will see some koláče as well as other pastries and the Sunday lunch table will probably buckle under lots of roasted meat (typicall goose or duck). In the region of Haná, the koláč typically served would be the delicious Hanácký koláč.
Hody is worth experiencing…
There are many more details and regional specialities than we mention. It would be a much longer post and we are positive that we couldn’t do this special time of the year justice. If you want to experience one of the most traditional folkloric celebrations and see something you won’t see anywhere else, plan your trip to Czechia in summer!
Enjoy some more photos;-)
Be sure to check the Customs & Traditions cathegory to read about other Czech traditions.