well hellooooo! the praguenosis is not dead (yet), my friends.
This year I am staying in Prague for Christmas, so today, I would like to share some czech chirstmas traditions….
The first thing I did to kick of this holiday season was to participate in a vánoční cukroví baking day hosted by my friend, Petra. Vánoční cukroví are christmas cookies and other sweets, that are made by (typically) the women in the family toward the beginning of December and are something that is not to be messed with. It is typical to spend a couple days making easily two hundred cookies of various types. The cookies are not to be eaten for two weeks (no one has really provided an answer as to why you have to wait… other than ‘you just have to’), and then closer to christmas and even for a couple weeks after you are constantly being offered cookies from friends and family. I like every type of christmas cookie I have tried so far, so this isn’t a problem for me.
I have to admit that none of the nice looking cookies in the pictures were made by me. I don’t know what happened, but mine shrunk while baking and came out looking all deformed. They were at least edible, but that’s about it.
Another czech christmas tradition is Svařak (hot wine – or is it mulled wine, in english?). I’m not a huge fan of red wine, and for some reason I thought that all svařak was made with red wine. But for our baking party, Petra made hers with white wine, and it was amazing!
I am a huge fan of artificial trees. That’s most likely because it’s what I grew up with, but to me, real trees just equal mess and waste. and to boot, they are hardly ever as symmetrical and as filled out as an artificial tree, which is obviously very important.
Daniel grew up with a real tree every year. We spent a good two weeks trying to convence each other that our way was the way to go. In the end, I caved and we got a live tree (i know, i am so nice). This was mostly due to the fact that the selection of artificial trees is pretty poor from what I saw in the stores. I think the imperfections of our natural tree is starting to grow on me, but I got unreasonably jealous when my friend, Jen, was talking about her pre-lit Martha Stewart tree. And I hate the tree with a deep passion every time I am sweeping up pine needles. Which happens to be about every 20 minutes because sweet little Oliver loves to sit underneath the tree has to hit every single branch as he circles around the base of the tree for the perfect resting position.
Even thought I caved on the type of tree, I was not going to budge on the fact that it needed to be purchased and decorated before our Sváty Mikuláš (St. Nicholas) party. Everyone who came to the party was so shocked that the tree was up so early. I laughed at this, because it was December 8th and if I could have, I would have had it up the day after Thanksgiving like the rest of America! Everyone kept saying that their family puts the tree up on Christmas Eve. This appalled me. A tree for one day?? What a travesty! What a waste! Daniel later explained to me that it’s usual for families to put up the christmas tree on Christmas Eve, and leave it up until the beginning of February. So this means that if we want to blend our cultures’ traditions, I can have a tree up from December 1st to February. Which also means it is necessary to have an artificial tree. Double win!
I wrote a post on the Svaty Mikuláš tradition last year. Last week we had a St. Nicholas / belated housewarming party. For the party, I attempted to make svařak (with red wine), and nearly ruined it with an excess of cloves. I did not know that cloves are so potent and that 3 or 4 is plenty, but thankfully some of my guests let me know after they saw me dump in half a bag. I quickly scooped them out and we had some yummy svařak. At least no one told me if it wasn’t yummy…
I think my favorite thing about Christmas in Prague is the markets that go up the first week of December. There is one on the square that my office is on, so I can spend a few minutes of my lunch break perusing the different stands and eating Trdelnik (a warm, cinnamon and sugar, doughy amazing treat).
For Christmas Eve dinner, a traditional meal of carp and potato salad is served. The carp markets on the streets open up usually the week before christmas. You can go the day before or morning of christmas eve to get your carp, but families with small children often buy live fish from the market and keep them in the bathtub at home for a day or two. Daniel said that when he was little, they would always get two fish from the market and put both in the bathtub. One was for dinner, the other “lucky” one was set free in the river. Daniel acknowledges that the “lucky” fish probably did not live long in the frigid river. Sweet christmas memories of childhood!
As you can see, the Czechs have many lovely christmas traditions and I am so happy that I can spend another Christmas here and be part of it all. But of course, I will be missing home terribly and wishing I could be with my friends and family in Ohio. I wish everyone a very happy holiday season!
ps. Katka, if you read this post and I have said anything that is not correct, please let me know