Holiday traditions bring food to the festive table
By Emma Palova
Lowell, MI – Since we are in the holiday spirit, I wrote about the holidays and festivities in my Greenwich Meridian memoir today back in the socialist era of former Czechoslovakia.
Many households were self-sufficient with most everything home raised and home made. A staple of the holiday season was the butchering of the family pig, so there was plenty of meat on the festive table.
Below is an illustration by Czech national artist Joseph Lada of a holiday tradition.
Here is an excerpt:
However, a big tradition centered around the parishes stayed intact- that is the feast of the saints, to which the churches were dedicated to. In our case, it was the Feast of Saint Mary in Stipa on September 8th. These feasts or pilgrimages were much like homecomings or festivals in the U.S. The entire families gathered for the feasts for an opulent celebration of the saints. In many cases, animals were butchered and ladies baked the famous pastry-kolache or strudels. A dance took place at the local hall on the night before the feast. This often turned into a brawl, as people got drunk on plum brandy. Carnival rides always came into town with booths and paper roses. I loved these paper colorful crepe roses on wires; I wish I had kept at least one. Other booths sold gingerbread hearts of all sizes for all hearts.
In traditional pilgrimage places like Hostyn, the booths were set up all the time and opened for the season with hundreds of religious and non-religious items.
That brings me to celebrations of holidays in general. In villages like Stipa, many people raised animals for meat: rabbits, pigs, geese, turkeys, chickens and ducks. That was the primary source of meat for the holidays. Most meat was roasted, served with sauces or sauerkraut and dumplings. Pork and chicken were often fried into wiener schnitzel. Salads or vegetables were not as common as in the U.S. due to their year-round shortage. Soups were always a part of a holiday meal, mostly beef or chicken. In some households, people made their own noodles.
As a rule, women baked for the weekends all sorts of pastries, some for breakfast. But there was also an abundance of pastries on the market; at the bakeries, coffee shops, patisseries and in grocery stores. Among the most famous were “rohliky” or bread rolls in the shape of a crescent, some even came with poppy seeds. And bread was always good, whether baked round with hard crust or in loaves.
Other products made also at home were sausages and smoked meat. The butchering of the family pig usually took place in winter and before the holidays, so there was plenty of meat on the table.
The shortages in socialism drove the need for self-sufficiency specifically in the villages and craftsmanship as well.
Many households in villages and towns were self-sufficient with everything homemade or home grown. National artist Joseph Lada illustrated the traditional festivities: The Feast of St. Nicholas on Dec. 6, the butchering of the family pig in the yard with onlookers, Christmas by the tall tiled stoves, autumn campfires with fire-roasted potatoes and summer fun by the ponds with the willows.
The Czech Republic enjoys distinct seasons: mild winters, early springs, hot summers and moderate autumns.
To be continued….
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Czech holiday traditions provide food for the festive table. An excerpt from the Greenwich Meridian memoir.