Zen Recreations

  Posted Tuesday, January 12, 2016 at 1:26pm by Darren Baker

Christmas in the Czech Republic is now a lavish affair

Christmas in the Czech Republic is now a lavish affair, with what seems like every town trying to outdo the other in the amount of outdoor decorations they put up and the size of their tree in the local square. Who cares, of course, as long as it all looks nice and there’s plenty of piping hot mulled wine to drink while you’re enjoying the Yuletide festivities. Typically, you have a month to enjoy it, because the season begins on the fourth Sunday prior to the big day. The countdown is still traditionally marked using an advent’s wreath with placeholders for four candles. The first Sunday you light one candle, the next two, then three, until it’s the final Sunday and all four candles are burning, meaning you’re just days away from that “most wonderful time of the year”.

The first real excitement of the season comes on the evening of December 5th, the eve of St. Nicholas feast day. That’s when Nicholas, dressed up as a hoary bishop, pays a visit to all the children to find out if they’ve been naughty or nice. He carries with him a little book where everything has been duly noted. If they have been nice, he hands them a bag of sweets. If not, it’s lumps of coal, which I suppose isn’t such a bad thing in families here that still use it for heating their homes. Of course, Nicholas isn’t alone. He’s brought with him an angel and the devil, a very dirty and hairy creature making a horrible racket with chains, which he loves to rattle when he hears stuff like the kids ain’t been picking up after themselves or won’t make their beds in the morning. They don’t like this fellow and promise to do better, and as a sign of their good faith they belt out a Christmas carol for the distinguished guests. After they leave, the little ones can let out a sigh of relief, check out the goods they received, and perhaps go to the window to see how Nicholas and his sidekicks get around. One year we arranged for some friends to take on these roles and they arrived in a BMW. I didn’t know that until my daughter reported that, boy, St. Nicholas sure has a nice car.

 

Don’t worry if the devil left a nasty stench behind him. After that bit of excitement, your home starts to take on a heavenly aroma as the Christmas baking gets underway. There’s the Christmas bread, which is a sweet braided loaf filled with raisins and almond flakes. It’s usually eaten for breakfast, sliced and smeared with real butter to go with hot chocolate or coffee. Then there are the cookies, how many varieties nobody knows because every household has their own specialties. Some of the more popular ones include vanilla crescents and rum balls rolled in coconut. These are the easy ones to make, because there are quite a few that require craftsmanship before sliding them into the oven. You almost hate to snatch them off the plate and pop them into your mouth, but that’s exactly what you do for the next couple of weeks. Some cookies, like the “beehive”, are filled with spiked eggnog, so if you eat it while drinking eggnog, then you’re double dipping.

                                                                                                             

Finally, it’s Christmas eve, which starts off by going to the bathroom and saying goodbye to the carp that has occupied your bathtub for the past few days. Sometimes when the children aren’t looking, he disappears, officially taken to the river to enjoy the rest of his days in the cool waters whence he came. As for that carp being breaded and fried up in the kitchen, he had the misfortune of wandering in by mistake from the frozen food section of the supermarket. There’s no need to worry about the kids getting too nosy about it, because they’re glued to the TV watching fairytales (or phones and tablets for families into that sort of thing). Then comes dinner in the afternoon, which starts with fish or pea soup, you can choose, followed by the lost fish and potato salad, or fried schnitzel for those of us not into navigating bones throughout the course of the meal.

Cleanup comes next, during which someone will crack a few walnuts and slice some apples, perhaps slather a wafer with honey, all for dessert. Then comes the big moment when you distract the kids with something in the bedroom, put all the gifts under the Christmas tree, and ring the bell. The rest is mania.                                                                                                                  

The next two days are public holidays when you go around visiting family and friends, or hanging around home finishing off the fish and potato salad, usually with the traditional Christmas classics on TV like perennial favorites Cinderella, an old grouch named Angel, and the timeless Father Frost from Russia. Strangely, these classics have nothing to do with Christmas, supposedly because under the old regime the officials frowned on religion, which was true, but they also frowned on feudalism, and many of these classics are about kings and princesses. Maybe the problem is you can dress up these characters in fine costumes and everybody knows who they are. With Christmas, the beneficent one is the Christ child. All those presents under the tree are from him, still swaddled up and lying in the manger. There’s no easy way to make a comedy about him the way you would Santa Claus. So you don’t. But that’s all right when we remember that we don’t have to know and see and hear everything, that sometimes a little mystery makes a fine gift in itself.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

If you were unable to join us this Christmas be sure to book your Czech Christmas in advance with Zen Recreations and celebrate the “most wonderful time of the year” with Czech beer, eggnog and candies together.

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