Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year! Štastný Nový Rok

So us Czechs call New Year's Eve "Silvestr".  December 31st is St. Sylvester's Day because it is the saint's feast day.  And, since Prague was his place of birth, the tie is even stronger in the Czech Republic. We'll get together on "na Silvestra" and we'll eat (a lot) and drink (even more), and since today is Silvestr, I'm gearing up to be quite full and very, very merry.
As we say in Czech, Jak na Nový rok, tak po celý rok, which translated means, what happens on the 1st of January will happen every day of the new year.  So essentially, don't drink so much on Silvestr that you end up in a bad situation on New Year's Day...because that won't shape up to be a pretty year.  Instead, start the first day of 2013 off right... be healthy, happy, respectable, honest, loved, and love back with all of your heart.  In my head, which tends to produce romantic scenarios and fairy tale visions, I picture starting off the new year with passionate kisses and embraces, "Miluji tě"s and even more of those aforementioned kisses.  Yes, I'm a romantic...a damn bleeding heart romantic...and if you haven't guessed it I plan to spend 2013 wrapped in romance...because everything is better with romance.  

But all of that romance aside, we Czechs have traditions to adhere to on Silvestr and New Year's Day.  It's traditional to start off the new year with a clean house, everyone is busy doing their part to make sure that everything sparkles before the day is done. For good luck, one should eat a piece of herring before midnight (I've got rollmops ready to go!).  

There's an Eastern European superstition that states that on New Year's "it must be ensured that no animal meat ends up in the pan".  Why?   Because they once had legs, and the the luck would hop or fly away. Lobster and crab are considered bad luck because they move backwards and could lead to setbacks. 

Chicken is also a no-no because they scratch backward, and eating any winged fowl is ill-advised because this could portend one's good luck flying away.  

If you're awake at lunchtime on New Year's Day, you should eat lots of lentils (čočka as we call it) because in Czech tradition lentils symbolize money $$$ (I best be stocking up on the lentils and setting the alarm clock because I sure can use some extra money!).  Need a recipe for čočka?  Click here čočka recipe

 So what does this carnivores bunch of Czechs eat on Silvestr?   Meat.  Lots of meat.  Various chlebíčky (open-faced sandwiches), nuts, and other snacks, too. Midnight is celebrated by drinking šampaňské (champagne) or some other local sparkling wine. Some Czechs eat vepřový ovar (boiled pork head) se strouhaným křenem a jablky (with grated horseradish and apples) at midnight.  Myself?  I'll be indulging on artisanal cheeses, cured meats, and lots and lots of champagne. And I won't forget the herring for good luck!


My New Years wish to all of you is a happy home, happy and healthy self, family, and pets, travels to wonderful foreign destinations, prosperity and, of course, romance.

However you spend Silvestr, may it be happy and safe!

 Štastný Nový Rok everyone!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas Eve! Have fun following our endless list of customs...

It's here!  Christmas Eve is here!

For Czechs, Christmas Eve is the big day and Christmas Day is spent relaxing, eating and drinking (we are Czech don't forget).  But today is our day to go all out and celebrate.  I myself have cleaned the home yesterday in anticipation of today, and today will be spent cooking for tonight's meal and wrapping gifts... with a cocktail in-hand, of course.

Let me share some of our traditions with you...

Czech's spend the afternoon of Christmas Eve at home with their families, decorating the Christmas tree and preparing food for the evening celebration. I have already failed my Czech traditions as I've had my tree up for well over a week now.  Tsk Tsk

Traditionally, on Christmas Eve Czechs are only allowed to eat sauerkraut soup during the day in order to see the "golden piglet". This lasts until early evening, when Christmas dinner is served around 6pm.

Um, I have failed at this as well.

A traditional Czech dinner is carp, our protein of choice, which is purchased live from sellers on the street, then either broiled or fried and served with potato salad.  

After dinner, a bell is rung signifying that Ježíšek has arrived and placed gifts under the tree.  Once all the gifts are opened, families play games, or watch christmas movies, or just have a merry time together boozing it up (err, the adults, that is). Midnight mass is attended by some.  I always mean to attend, but never quite seem to make it.  Shame!

That all being said, this is important so listen up!
Here are some Czech traditions you may want to follow...unless you want to end up dead! (not really)
 You should know by now that we're a superstitious bunch.

Christmas Dinner Customs
Disclaimer:  Very few of these are still observed today (phew).  Can you imagine sticking to them?  Although, the superstitious Czech in me is struggling at this very moment...

- No lights should be lit in the house before the first star comes out. After it does, dinner is served. - It's a cloudy day...what does that mean for tonight?  No dinner if no star??

- The table should be set for an even number of guests. An odd number brings bad luck or death.  - Great, we have three this year.  The dog will have to sit at the dinner table

- The legs of the table can be tied with a rope to protect the house from thieves and burglars in the coming year.  - Easy enough.

- No one should sit with their back to the door.

- Christmas dinner should consist of nine courses including soup, bread with honey, carp, potato salad, fruit (dried, fresh or canned), dessert (apple strudel or vánočka), and other foods.

- No alcohol should be served on Christmas Eve - GASP!!!!

- No one should ever get up from the Christmas table before dinner is finished. Doing so brings bad luck and death  in the family.

- Everyone should finish their dinner and leave nothing on the plate.

- The first person to leave the table after dinner will be the first one to die in the coming year - that is why everyone should get up from the table at the same time. - On the count of three...1, 2...

- Any leftovers from dinner (crumbs, fishbones, etc.) should be buried around the trees to ensure they will bear lots of fruit.

- All household animals should be fed after dinner so that no one goes hungry on Christmas Eve - well since the dog will be sitting at the table already...

And if that's not enough... here are some more tasks for us to do:

The Cutting of an Apple
After Christmas dinner, every person present at the table cuts an apple in half (crosswise, from the stem down).  Both halves are shown to everyone around the table.  If the core is shaped as a star, it means that everyone will get together next year in happiness and health.  A four-pointed cross is a bad omen and means that someone at the table will fall ill or die within a year.

The Throwing of a Shoe
An unmarried girl is supposed to throw a shoe over her shoulder and towards the door.  If the shoe lands with the toe pointing towards the door, the girl will marry within a year.

Fish Scales
Fish scales should be placed under Christmas dinner plates or under the tablecloth to bring wealth to the house.  Carrying a fish scale in a wallet all year will ensure that money will not run out.

The Floating of Walnut Shells
Little boats are made out of empty walnut shells and each family member places a little burning candle into a shell.  Everyone's shells are then floated in a bowl of water.  If the shell makes it across the bowl, its owner will live a long and healthy life.  A shell that sinks brings bad luck to its owner.

The Pouring of Lead
A piece of lead is melted over a fire and then poured into a container of water.  The resulting shape will tell the pourer's destiny.

After Christmas dinner, no field is to crossed until midnight mass.  He who does so will die within a year (phew, sure glad I don't live near any fields!)

A pregnant woman will know whether she is carrying a boy or a girl once the first Christmas Eve visitor enters the house.  If the visitor is male, she will have a son; female, a daughter.

He who fails to give a present on Christmas Eve will be met with poverty...
Don't be a Scrooge this Christmas!

 Certain plants, spices and foods are said to have special qualities and have been an important part of the Czech Christmas celebration throughout history.  Here are a few that should be served at Christmas:

An essential part of Christmas that should not be missing at any Christmas dinner.  It is believed to provide strength and protection.  A bowl of garlic can be placed under the dinner table.

Honey is believed to guard against evil.  A pot of honey can be placed on the dinner table.

Mushrooms give health and strength.  A traditional meal called kuba, prepared from dried mushrooms, barley, garlic, onions, and spices, used to be served as the main meal in the past.  Mushroom soup can be served before dinner.

Sheaf of Grain
A bundle of grain dipped in holy water can be used to sprinkle the house to prevent it from burning down in the coming year.

Poppyseed, peas, wheat, barley
If given to the hens on Christmas Eve, lots of eggs will be laid in the coming year.

Vánočka (Christmas bread)
Feeding a piece of vánočka into the well will ensure good quality of the water.

If the goats are given apples on Christmas Eve, their milk will be sweet.

Whoa, those sure are a lot of superstitions and traditions to follow... will you adhere or take a gamble?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

This should be my backyard...just during Christmas

This is just too nice not to share...Holiday scene

For those of you who don't read Czech, first click on the sky, then the snowball, followed by the lake, sky again, the gazebo, then the xmas tree, and lastly the xmas tree again.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Best advent calendar ever!

Where can I find a Christmas village like this one?!

And I was just saying that I'm bummed that I don't have an advent calendar this know, the one with chocolates behind each window.  Well, this is even better! 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sheer magic, that's what this is

Absolutely breathtaking.  I can almost feel that peaceful calm that comes along with a nighttime snowfall...
This is just magical

Photo by GrosMAN Photography... 
check them out at Facebook for even more stunning pics of Prague

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dust off those ice skates

An outdoor skating rink is so fitting this time of year...especially when the backdrop is the stunning Baroque Estates Theatre (Stavovské divadlo)

**Photo by Oskar Exner**

The rink is located at Ovocný trh (the fruit market) and will remain open through January 31, 2013.  Hours are 10 am - 9:30 pm.  Use of the rink is free-of-charge, but if you need to rent skates it'll set you back a mere 50 CZK per hour.

Don't know how to ice skate?  Grab a hot mulled wine from one of the many Christmas stands in Old Town Square and you'll be performing the lutz in no time!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Monday, December 3, 2012

Please help me feel Christmassy!

I'm longing for that Christmassy feeling and no place delivers better than Prague.  But, alas, I am not in Prague for the holiday season this year, thus I need to ask you, readers, for your help in making me feel festive and bringing a Prague Christmas to me in Hawaii. 

Today I envision strolling through Old Town Square with a hot cup of Svařák (mulled wine) in-hand.  Perhaps a cinnamon Trdelnik in my other hand.  Gloved hands, of course, for I picture it to be quite chilly, perhaps even lightly snowing.  

I don't like the cold weather by any stretch of the imagination, but during the Christmas season, it's what helps make me feel festive, especially when the scent of wood burning fills the air...or roasting meat!
Prague Christmas Markets

The Christmas markets are now open throughout Prague and they are where I long to be...

During the day I like to browse the stands and pick up presents and stocking stuffers for family & friends
Prague Christmas Markets

And at night, there's just something so spectacular about being in the square surrounded by twinkling lights and holiday music... gives me a sense of calm and happiness that I just can't put into words.
Prague Christmas Markets

Prague Christmas Markets

** All of the photos except for the very first one are from MyCzechRepublic since I am not there this year **  Visit the website for opening hours and a list of all of the x-mas markets in Prague

Sunday, December 2, 2012

O' Christmas Tree

Now it feels like Christmas!

Lighting the Christmas spruce in the center of Prague taken into account for 40,000 people.

This years tree, which grew near the village of Holoubkov na Rokycansku, is adorned in gold, red, white and honey hues.  He's decorated with straw ornaments, large gingerbread in the shape of snowmen and bells, and lit red bows.  All of this year's Old Town symbolism refers to the Old Czech Christmas tradition.

The tree was lit on Saturday and it's estimated that some 40,000 people came to witness it.  

Here's a video of the lighting... so pretty, wish I were there (sigh)

Trumpeter in the tower at the Old Town Hall Square

**Photos are by  Jan Handrejch**