Christmas Eve traditions
By Emma Palova
EW Emma’s Journal
Christmas Eve in Czech Republic is a colorful tapestry woven with legends, stories, myths and superstitions that originate in folk beliefs long before television or the Internet.
Many people believe that magical things happen on that day. No one should be sad, aggressive or squabble on that day, because it would stay with them until next Christmas.
Coming from a Catholic family, we always fasted on that day. The tradition has it if you don’t eat anything until the festive dinner, you will see the “Golden Pig.”
“Emma, don’t eat anything or you won’t see the golden pig,” my grandfather chuckled behind my back.
Then one Christmas Eve, as a kid, I caught him doing the pig with a flashlight. I remember the disappointment was almost the same, as when my friends in Sudan, Africa told me that Jesus is not the one who brings presents, but my parents do. I used to write letters to Jesus, and put them inside on the window sill. I was always so happy when they disappeared. Santa Claus does not exist in Czech traditions.
Some disappointments come early.
We always had real wax candles on the tree. One Christmas in Africa the tree caught on fire. I guess my dad extinguished it. The same happened in former Czechoslovakia at least three Christmases. Then, we finally switched to electric lights which are nearly not as romantic, but a lot safer.
People also visited on Christmas Eve to wish merry Christmas to taste desserts and do some shots. Usually people had their favorite cookie. One year all the chocolate beehives disappeared. A relative ate them all. The same thing happened last night, when my brother Vas ate all the vanilla crescents.
The beehives were a catchall dessert. They’re not baked because they’re made from already baked dough that just didn’t turn out well. You add rum to the dough, and put it in the form and it comes out like beehive or a tall hat. Then it’s filled.
There should be an even number of diners at the table or Mrs. Death will take the odd one within the next year. You can also fool Mrs. Death by setting at least one more plate if there is an odd number of people at the table. No one should leave the table during dinner or they will die.
Apples also come into play on that magical evening. You cut an apple in half and if it has the perfect star-shaped pit in the center, you will be healthy. If it’s rotted, the person will be sick.
You should place a scale from your festive carp and a coin under the plate for wealth. Those who are really motivated can put an entire wallet under it.
Also you’re supposed to throw behind you a shoe. If the front of the shoe faces the door, you will leave the household or get married. My mom always did this one wishing her shoe would turn out so she could leave former Czechoslovakia be reunited with my dad in Hawkins, TX. She waited four Christmases before she received her emigration visa.
Other tales call for sharing the leftovers from the Christmas Eve dinner with the nature, animals and birds. We open presents after dinner and go to the midnight mass.
One tradition that disappeared are the carolers and musicians playing under the balcony in hometown Zlin. But, once a year, I play the piano and my son plays the saxophone Czech carols.