What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear about the Czech Republic? For an 18yo me (almost two years ago) excited about coming to the Czech Republic, it was winter, snow, Christmas markets, and those amazing Christmas vibes all over the city. I used to spend hours watching photos of winter in Prague just imagining myself there and getting excited to finally arrive.
For most of us, winter is a synonym of Christmas, family and/or friends gathering together, cosiness, and of course food.
Nonetheless, it is different in every country; from big differences like whether - it is hot or cold depending on which side of the equator you are in, to food or traditions. It is always interesting to discover these little cultural differences.
In the Czech Republic, winter may be the time when most people have days off to go on vacation and spend time with their families (not university students though, we are stressed about the upcoming tests and projects, but we sure have a few weeks off, do not be scared) because of that, everyone wants to get out of the everyday routine and go somewhere to relax. It is common for Czech families to have cottages/cabins far from the city, especially close to mountains, to do the most common recreative activities here: walks in nature and skying on the mountains. Some families, on the other hand, choose to give themselves a break from cold weather and travel to close countries to enjoy a nice vacation on the
But for those who stay in the city, we have the worldwide famous Christmas markets which are perfect to spend the afternoon with family and friends enjoying the Christmas vibes. There is usually different kind of shows in the squares where these Christmas markets are, singing carols, acting or playing Christmas music, there is always something interesting to see...and to drink! You can always find here different kinds of hot beverages to warm up a little, especially the Czech favourite: svařák, which is made of hot wine, cinnamon, lemon, cloves, and a lot of sugar; it is a must-try. We all know it, the reason most people love winter is for the Holidays that take place during this time, in the Czech Republic there are three main ones:
1. St. Nicholas day (Svatý Mikuláš)
This is the winter tradition that I find most interesting, and according to Czech friends, a very traumatic one as a kid. It is celebrated on December 5th (yes, technically this is not winter yet, but it feels like it since it is connected to Christmas, so let's not get technical here). This day, groups of three persons go in costume to the streets or knocking door to door: St. Nicholas, the devil, and an angel. St.Nicholas gives candy or fruits to the children, the devil is there to ¨take away¨ the misbehave children (and scare them a little bit just for fun, according to the stories I've heard), and the angel, in charge to appeal on the children behalf.
2. Christmas Eve (Štědrý den) and Christmas (Vánoce)
The most anticipated day of winter, all families and friends gathered together to enjoy Christmas. Christmas tree is usually decorated during Christmas eve, and everyone is ready to eat the traditional Czech Christmas dinner: Fried carp served with potato salad (and believe it or not, a tradition still held by a lot of Czech families is to buy the carp alive, keep it in the bathtub before starting cooking and even name it).
But what would a Christmas dinner be without a dessert? Here we encounter the delicious ¨cukroví¨, a variety of small cookies which may be my favourite thing about Christmas in the Czech Republic and probably the reason for my weight gain every Christmas. It is not only the flavour that makes them so special but it also the fact that they bring families together during all December to bake these cookies, children with parents, grandparents and whoever gets there to help. As good as the flavour is the love with which they are made.
But let's better stop talking this much about food, this is whetting the appetite isn't it? Another interesting thing on Czech Christmas is that the one bringing gifts to the children during this night is not Santa Claus or The Three kings as
in most countries. It is baby Jesus the one who does it in the Czech Republic (I guess they divide the work of giving presents and baby Jesus is the one in charge of the Czech Republic). Not only for children, but this is also the day families give each other presents (which they may have bought just the day before because all stores are full of people
doing last-minute shopping, oh beautiful Christmas).
3. New Year (Nový Rok)
Another winter celebration that excites everybody... -Oh! I almost forgot!- This
is a topic for another day... So stay tuned for our next blog!