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?