Every country carries out their own set of traditions and customs each year during the holidays. When moving to the Czech Republic, it’s good to be aware of some customs that may be different from your own. For example, in the Czech Republic, it’s common for households to hold off on getting a Christmas tree until December 23rd or just a few days before. Why? Answers vary, but a few have told me it’s to make sure that the tree is still alive and fresh at home on Christmas Day. Families will usually decorate the tree together on the 23rd and so it will be ready on the 24th — Christmas Day. Yes, even Christmas Day is different in Czech than it is in the U.S. It’s on the 24th instead of the 25th.
For the entire Christmas day, the custom is not to eat. This can be seen as a way to save and build up your appetite for dinner, but there is also an interesting twist added into this mix. Czechs tell children that if you do not eat the entire day and wait until Christmas dinner, then you will be able to see a golden flying pig which represents good luck. As a foreigner, I am not sure if this golden flying pig hallucination would be brought on by hunger or if it’s just a great incentive for children not to eat all the cookies before dinnertime. In any case, it’s a nice and friendly addition.
A very unique custom is one which involves putting a carp (fish) into your bathtub. The main dish during Christmas for most Czech families is carp. However, the carp is usually not bought entirely prepared and ready to eat. Part of this unique tradition involves buying a fresh carp (alive) and keeping it in your bathtub for a day or two, killing it, and then preparing it for the Christmas meal. In a way it’s kind of sadistic, but they have their reasons. Often times, children become attached to the fish in their home and end up sad when the day comes where the fish has to inevitably be killed and eaten. Brutal — my thoughts exactly. But the kids here get over it quickly, and everyone is soon back to enjoying the holiday festivities.
After eating the carp for Christmas dinner and once the meal is done, some people take a fish scale and place it in their wallets. This is seen as a charm for good fortune in the following year. People can choose to leave it in their wallets for the entire year until next Christmas.
The next custom you’ll hear about is one which involves an apple. At the end of the Christmas meal, Czechs usually take an apple and are asked to cut it in half. If the inside of the apple shows a cross, then it is said that the person will have bad luck for the next year. However, if the cut apple shows a star, then it represents that the person will have a good year filled with good luck. Interesting stuff, huh? Bet you’re gonna go and cut open an apple for yourself later today.
Last but not least, one of the biggest Christmas customs there is in the Czech Republic involves making Christmas cookies. These Christmas cookies are made well in advance (usually a week or two weeks). Czechs can make up to 15 different kinds of cookies, all sweet and some even incorporating whisky inside its recipes. Most of the cookies are made of shortbread, nuts, and chocolate. They’re homemade and delicious. You can find these little treats at just about every Christmas market or supermarket. Definitely worth a try for the holidays.
As you can see, there are quite a few unique customs that the Czechs have. As an expat, it’s cool to have an inside scoop about what is going on during the holidays so you aren’t too left out. It’s also worth a shot to try out the different sweets, as well with making sure you’re celebrating Christmas on the right day! Remember, its the 24th, not the 25th!