In the Czech Republic, preparations for Christmas begins right from around mid-November. Houses are thoroughly cleaned, carpets washed and furniture dusted. Gift shops and departmental stores are seen to be decked for the occassion. The festive spirit is apparent with buyers turning up at the stores every evening to purchase gifts, new apparels and various items of decoration. Also bought are sweets like Linzer cookies and Vanilla roll or food items such as “Vanoka”, traditional Christmas loaves. These are either bought or even baked at home.
The Advent period begins here four Sundays before Christmas Eve. During this time, a wreath is made of several evergreen branches fastened together, decorated with ribbons, pinecones and other trinkets and four candles placed around it, each representing one of the four weeks of the Advent period. Children are gifted beautiful Advent calendars to count the days to December 25. Every day they open one of the 24 small windows in it and find a small reward, usually a piece of chocolate, behind each of them.
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A well known custom observed here is “Barborky” that is practiced on the feast day of St. Barbora. On every 4th of December, young girls of marriageable age cut off a twig from a cherry tree and put it in water. If it blooms by Christmas Eve, the girl is believed to get married sometime during the coming year.
In the final days to December 25th, gifts and greetings are sent out to friends and family members. Every individual home is decorated as beautifully as possible. The Christmas tree is indisensable to the Czech Christmas decorations. Fruits such as red apples and nuts, straw crafts and glass decorations are traditionally used to adorn these trees. Christmas trees are set up, either on December 23rd or 24th, in individual homes and even in public squares in Czech towns and cities. The Christmas tree on Prague’s Old Town Square is very popular and a tourist attraction during the season. Christmas trees,
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whether in Czech homes or public spots, are taken down usually before January 6th, the Day of Epiphany. Setting up the manger is also an important part of Czech Christmas and one of the oldest traditions here. Throughout the republic, the Nativity Scene is created in varying sizes and from various materials like wood, paper, ceramics, gingerbread and the like. The Baby Jesus, surrounded by Mary and Joseph, form the focus of the manger scene.
The Christmas season in the Czech Republic begins with the feast and the visit of St. Nicholas or Svaty Mikalas on December 6th. The feast of St. Nicholas (or Svaty Mikalas) is enthusiastically celebrated here. During the evening of the 5th December, children watch the sky for any sign of St. Nicholas.
Czechs believe that Svaty Mikalas climbs down to earth from the heaven using a golden rope and carrying two sacks – a sack filled with presents for good children and a sack filled with sticks for kids who behave badly throughout the year. On the eve of the feast day, December 5th, children hang a stocking in their windows to be filled by St. Nicholas at night. On St. Nicholas’ day, children wake up to recieve their presents. But they get their main presents only on Christmas eve evening.
On Christmas Eve (December 24th) families gather at home to decorate the Christmas tree and prepare dinner. Many people, especially the devout ones, fast all day long on Christmas Eve and break it with a grand meal in the evening, when the first star emerges in the night sky. All relatives and friends are invited to the Christmas dinner. Fish soup and fried carp with potato salad form the main menu of a traditional Christmas Eve dinner. It is considered unlucky to get up from the table before everyone is finished. Also, the table is always set for an even number of guests in the belief that it would bring bad luck if done otherwise. Presents are exchanged after dinner and often, fortunes are told. At midnight, people attend Holy Mass, known as “Pasterka”.
On December 25th (Christmas Day), the churches in Czechoslovakia are adorned with evergreens and Christmas Trees. The festivities last for three days. Czechs traditionally have a cod roe soup on this day and tempt each other with tales of a mythical golden pig. Everyone wishes each other ‘Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce’ (Merry Christmas) on this day.