Czech Christmas Traditions: Carp, Floating Walnuts and a Baby Jesus

Samantha Barbagallo  ·  5 / 12 / 2016

It’s Christmas! (Cue Slades, Merry Christmas Everybody!). It’s the season for gift giving, twinkling fairy lights, tons of chocolate, family time and recharging our batteries. Every country around the world celebrates this magical time with their own traditions and here in the Czech Republic, we have a few Christmas traditions of our own, including some rather weird ones!

1. St Nicholas Day (Svaty Mikulas)

Arrive in the Czech Republic around the 5th December and you’ll likely see images of not only St Nicholas (Santa Claus) but an Angel and a Devil accompany him. On the Eve of the 5th December, you may even spot St Nicholas, the angel and devil walking around local towns and even through the Old Town Square in Prague, asking children if they have been good all year and even to recite a song or poem. If they have been good, they will be given sweets and chocolate, but if they have been bad, the devil may give them a lump of coal.

2. Christmas is celebrated on the 24th December

Christmas Eve (December 24) is celebrated in the Czech Republic and Slovakia as Štědrý den/Štedrý deň, which means "Generous Day". This is traditionally when the family comes together to eat their Christmas Dinner (more on that in a moment) and open their gifts. So don’t be surprised to find many shops and restaurants closed on the 24th December. 

3. Carp for dinner anyone?

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Unlike many countries where Turkey is the main dish for Christmas Dinner, in the Czech Republic, carp is served in the form of a soup and/or main dish. Carps are often purchased a week before Christmas from street vendors so you'll often spot large tanks on the streets of Prague full of Carp. They are bought and kept alive in the bath tub until they are ready for cooking on Christmas Eve. 

4. Baby Jesus delivers presents?

In the Czech Republic, Children believe Ježíšek 'Baby Jesus' brings presents (not Santa Claus) during the Christmas eve dinner and leaves them under the Christmas Tree. After dinner, children hear a bell ring that means that Ježíšek has been and left their presents. Baby Jesus certainly does not hail from the North Pole, but just like Santa, he receives wish-list letters in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

5. Spot the Golden Pig…

According to Czech tradition, on the day of the 24th December, Czechs are meant to abstain from eating meat and fast until the dinner in the evening. It is said that if you fast all day, you will see the “golden piglet” in the sky in the evening.

6. Even numbers…

At a Czech Christmas Dinner, the table should be set for an even number of people. An odd number brings bad luck or death. Therefore an extra plate is often used to even out the number of guests and in case an unexpected guest arrives for dinner.

7. Floating Walnuts…

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During the Christmas Eve dinner, Czechs make tiny boats from the shells of walnuts with a little candle inside. Each family member and guest places their shell on a bowl of water. If the shell makes it across the bowl without sinking, the owner of the shell boat will live a healthy life. If it sinks immediately it is a sign of death or bad luck. But if it touches another sailing shell, it is said you will find love and friendship in the coming year.

8. Save a scale for good luck

It is said that if you carry a scale from the Christmas Carp in your wallet all year you are ensured wealth and money will not run out.

9. Attending Church…

As one of the most atheistic countries in the world, it may shock people to know that Christmas Eve is the one time of the year when non-religious Czechs may visit church. Some families also sing Christmas Carols around the tree before dinner.

10. Shoe throwing...

Marriage is a big celebration in the Czech Republic and at Christmas time there are plenty of traditions to help young women determine whether they will marry in the next year. The strangest of which comes from the unmarried woman throwing a show over her shoulder towards the front door. If the shoe lands with the toe facing outwards, the girl will marry within a year. If the toe faces in towards the house, she will remain for one more year.

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