Hello and welcome to Living Czech. I'm Nick Carey, and I am joined in the studio today by Jana Kotalikova. This week we're all festive, with Jana sitting here wearing her little Santa hat, and we're going to take a look at Christmas in Czech.
Christmas, which translates as Vánoce in Czech, begins with the Den Svatého Mikulá¹e, St. Nicholas' day on December 5th. On this day Svatý Mikulá¹, Saint Nicholas, who is our very own Father Christmas or Santa Claus, walks around town accompanied by an andìl, angel and a èert, devil. Saint Nick walks around asking children if they have been good or bad. If they have been good, they get a present, and if they have been bad the devil terrifies them. The devils are often extremely convincing, and tend to scare the living daylights out of children. I don't really see the point myself, because traumatising small children has never really been my cup of tea, except for my little sister, of course.
As Christmas approaches, it is time to buy a vánoèní stromeèek, Christmas tree, which is now the tradition across Europe and North America. It is also time to get your vánoèní ozdoby, Christmas decorations ready. Now, the tradition is that on December 24th, which is when Vánoce, Christmas is celebrated in the Czech Republic, and not the 25th as in English speaking countries, the tree and decorations are put up by the parents. The children are taken out for a walk, or kept out of the room while all of the decorations are put up, and the dárky, presents are put under the tree. A zvonek, bell is then rung to signify that Je¾í¹ek, the baby Jesus has arrived, and the children are let into the room to see the tree and open their presents. The fact that it is Je¾í¹ek, the baby Jesus, and not Santa Claus, who brings the presents, is very interesting, and quite a big job for a child to manage, even if he is Jesus. I am sure there are laws against child labour somewhere that should prevent this.
One of the reasons for the tradition of decorating the room without the children is apparently that for many people without money, the Christmas tree was the main present for the children. Nowadays, this tradition is still kept to by some people, but for most Czechs, the vánoèní stromeèek, Christmas tree is put up in the days leading up to Christmas, with the children participating. The dárky, presents are then put under the tree by the parents, and as with the older tradition, they ring a bell to indicate that industrious little Je¾í¹ek has arrived with the presents.
What do the Czechs eat at Christmas? Well, the traditional dish, as it has been for about three hundred years now, is the kapr, carp. This bottom feeding fish is served up with bramborový salát, potato salad, and is eaten in the vast majority of households. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, you can see kapr, carp being sold everywhere on major street corners, with the live kapr, carp kept in vats of water until someone comes along, point out which one they want. The kapr salesman takes said fish out of the water, bashes it over the head, guts it and hands it to the customer. You can alternately buy your kapr live, take it home, keep it in the bathtub and then do the job yourself closer to Christmas. Some people buy two carp, and release one into the river with their children.
There are of course events at Christmas that are similar to those in English speaking countries. People sing vánoèní koledy, Christmas carols, there are vánoèní koncerty, Christmas concerts, and vánoèní tr¾i¹tì, Christmas markets. And of course for the religious amongst you, there are vánoèní m¹e, Christmas masses held in all churches.