Tag Archives: carp

Gold Sunday in Czech Republic

Gold Sunday ushers in Christmas

Note: This is the last part in the “Three Sundays of Christmas” series.

By Emma Palova

EW Emma’s Writings

Gold Sunday is the  last Sunday before Christmas which this year falls on Dec. 21. By then all good housewives have their baking & cleaning done according to Czech traditions. Before I started writing and blogging,  I could make up to 10 different Christmas desserts including vanilla crescents, “nutty baskets,” chocolate “rohlicky” and” Ischel mini-cakes.”

As a student at the prep school Gymnasium Zlin, we would even get time off for baking.

“As long as you’re keeping the tradition going,” Russian language professor Chudarkova used to say.

Czech nutty baskets
Christmas nutty baskets

That reminds me of the opening day of the hunting season here in Michigan where some schools get the day off. I always baked long into the night, and I filled the pastries on Christmas Eve. Back in the old Czechoslovakia I had no helpers. Many years later in the USA my son Jake assisted me by rolling out the dough standing on a foot stool.

Gold Sunday is time to get your Christmas fish for the big evening feast known as “Bountiful Eve.” The town squares in Czech Republic are home to merchants with live carp. For years during Christmases of the past I went shopping for the best carp ever sporting a net bag, so the carp can breathe.

The Christmas fish in Czech Republic is carp
The Christmas fish in Czech Republic is carp

Large wooden vats carried carp from ponds in Southern Bohemia. The carp trade dates back to feudalism and to the royals who granted the rights to do this. I regret that I’ve never seen the carp ponds in Bohemia.

The live carp and then the butchering of it on the morning of Dec. 24 have been the subject of stories, legends, photographs and calendars much like the day and the evening itself.

Christmas at home
Lighting of the town Christmas trees in Czech Republic Photo by Jan Smejkal

I will remember one carp story forever. One family got so attached to their live carp, they could not bring themselves to butcher it. They took the live carp to a nearby brook and released it into the shallow water. The carp probably didn’t make it, but they felt better and from then on they purchased fish filets from a well-know store in hometown Zlin and that was Rybena.

I think my uncle John butchered ours. The family usually placed the carp in a tub. One year I put the tub outside on the apartment balcony. When I went to check on the fish next day, it almost froze. I had to smash the ice and resuscitate the fish.

So, the Christmas Eve menu in Czech Republic consists of breaded fried filet of carp, potato salad, mushroom or fish soup and the great cookies.

In later years, non-carp lovers substituted the carp for salmon filets. We stick to the tradition and I buy either cod or other white meat fish. I make tons of potato salad with our own pickles.

Stay tuned for the big story ” 25 years in the USA.”

Happy holidays.

Copyright © 2014 Emma Blogs LLC, All rights reserved

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Christmases of the past

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.

Christmas Eve traditions KJ Erben's poem
Christmas Eve traditions KJ Erben’s poem

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.

Letters to Santa at the Lowell Post Office
Letters to Santa at the Lowell Post Office

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.

A healthy apple brings a healthy year
A healthy apple brings a healthy year

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.