Christmas time is one of the most important and probably the most favourite feast in Czech republic. It is not only religious holiday, but for many people (doesn´t matter if they are believer or not) it is mainly the family feast.
Christmas time starts by the first advent Sunday (four Sundays before Christmas Eve) and officially finishes at St. Stephen’s Day (December 26th). During this period people in Czech republic hold many Christmas traditions. One of the most coommon and the most popular tradition is baking of Christmas cookies. They start in advance, usually at the beginning of Advent, so that the cookies have enough time to get more tasty. The another tradition which starts at the beginning of Advent is lighting of candels on a Christmas wreath. Every Advent Sunday there is one more candel to be lighten and at the end of the Advent time – at Cristmas Eve, there are all four candels blazing on the wreath.
In Advent time, people decorate their homes by Christmas garlands, speacial christmas decorations and characters and also by hanging mistletoe. A well known Christmas custom is called “Barborky”. That is practiced on the feast day of St. Barbora (every 4th of December). Young ladies of marriageable age cut off a twig from a cherry tree and put it in water. If it blooms by Christmas Eve, the girl is believed to get married sometime during the coming year. The custom is also that before Christmas Eve people send the greeting cards to their relatives and friends.
The significant day in Advent period is the feast of St. Nicholas, which is enthusiastically celebrated i Czech. It is a feast mostly dedicated to the children. In the evening, children are expecting a visit of St. Nicholas accompanied by few devils and one angel. If the children was behaving good during the year, they are given some candies from the angel and if they behaved badly throughout the year, devils give them some pieces of coals.
On 24th December, or few days before, people decorate their christmas trees by lights, coloured glass balls and another small decorations. On Christmas day people eat just a little and usually they don´t eat meat, because there is a story, that if you fast you can see the gold pig. During the day, the Christmas dinner is being prepared. The traditional dish for for Christmas Eve´s dinner is fish soup and fried carp with potato salad. Before the dinner people are raising the glasses and saying “Veselé Vánoce” (Merry Christmas).
The custom is to hide a carp scale under each plate in order to keep the wealth for the next year. Another custom is prepating one more plate for an occasional traveller who could stop by. I must mention also the custom of putting the nutshells with small candles to the bowl filled with water. Each “boat” symbolize the life way of it´s owner. The cutting of an apple and discovering if there is the star inside – which means good luck – or not is also very favourite Christmas tradition.
After the Christmas dinner the whole family goes to the Christmas tree, sing the carols and unwrap the presents. Watching the Cristmas fairy tales after unwraping the presents is very popular not only among small children, but also among their parents. Many people attend the midnight Holy Mass.