Tag Archives: vanilla crescents

The scents of Czech Christmas

A Czech Christmas in America

By Emma Palova

Lowell, MI – I landed at JFK on this day 28 years ago to live permanently in the USA with my family. We had two days to get from NYC to Big Rapids to be home for Christmas. My dad Vaclav Konecny, former math professor at Ferris State University, did all the driving through New York City and on the treacherous turnpike to Michigan.

I will never forget this road trip in mom’s station wagon with frozen formations on the windows across five states.

My mom Ella in anticipation of our arrival from former Czechoslovakia did all the prep work in the kitchen. This included the traditional Christmas Eve dinner that consists of a mushroom soup,  fried fish with potato salad and traditional Czech pastries.

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Czech mountains Radhost.

I knew immediately what I missed. Since everything was ready,  there were no smells in the suburban house, no scents of Christmas. I associate Czech Christmas with the aroma of vanilla crescents, hot chocolate that tops all filled pastries and browned mushrooms from the soup.

Since the Czechs put up their Christmas trees on Christmas Eve, you also get the smell of a fresh-cut pine tree.

After 28 years, I try to keep up with all the traditions of a true Czech Christmas. The only one that I had permanently dropped is putting up the tree on Christmas Eve. Other than that we adhere to the ritual of fasting on Dec. 24th  in order to see the golden pig on the wall according to an old legend. Mom bakes kolache for the Christmas Day breakfast, daughter-in-law Maranda and “recreate” traditional Czech pastries like chocolate covered “baskets” and Linzer cookies. We open up  gifts on Christmas Eve and we go to the midnight mass with carols.

Our son Jake plays Christmas songs on the saxophone, I accompany him on the piano. On Christmas Day, we mostly eat and drink, just like everyone else. around the world. We do the visiting on Dec. 26th which is the official second holiday of Christmas known as St. Stephan Day in the old country.

With this rather brief account of a traditional Czech Christmas, I would like to wish everyone a truly peaceful holiday season.

I have to run to bake some vanilla crescents, so I have the scent of a Czech Christmas in the house. Plus Jake called that they ate all the Christmas cookies Maranda had made.

Hohoho.

A sincere thank you to all my friends and fans.

Merry Christmas.

Emma Palova

Copyright (c) 2017. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Three Sundays of Christmas

Bronze Sunday

By Emma Palova

EW Emma’s Writings

Joyful season starts right now.
Joyful season starts now.

The third Sunday before Christmas in Czech Republic is bronze Sunday. On that day all stores open their doors to shoppers, and the Christmas markets begin on the major squares in towns. The town squares shine with decorated  Christmas trees to the nines.
The timing coincides with the four weeks of Advent. I’ve noticed the same trend here in the USA. Area communities  such as in Honey Creek, Cannonsburg decorate and light their Christmas trees  around the same time, so does  Lowell in Michigan prior to the annual Santa parade held this year on Dec. 6th.
Small stores like the nickel and dime store Springrove Variety in Lowell are open on Sundays starting  Dec.7th from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Springrove Variety in Lowell will be open for the next two Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Springrove Variety in Lowell will be open for the next two Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Typically, this is the time when you get your mistletoe coated with white or gold for Christmas at the markets. The parasite plant that brings abundance and love is a must in European households.

Kissing under the mistletoe.
Kissing under the mistletoe.

To stay warm, the markets offer mulled wine with cinnamon sticks, grog or rum with tea, and hot beer. At this time of the year, I bought some of the most beautiful crochet linens.

But, probably the biggest of all Christmas traditions is the holiday baking that starts around this time.

Winter in Michigan
Frozen kingdom

The most famous pastries with almost a sacred quality are vanilla crescents and Linz sweets. Baking takes place at least two weeks ahead of time so they soften by Christmas.

Famous vanilla crescents.
Famous vanilla crescents.

The aroma from baking with vanilla and nuts fills the homes with that special holiday atmosphere. And as my facebook friend and real life cousin Marta Krajcova posted, and I quote:
“I love the smell of vanilla as it bakes in the crescents, it fills the house,” she wrote. “We’re almost done.”

I will feature the recipe on the new Travel & Food page  on http:// etravelandfood.wordpress.com

Follow me next week for Silver Sunday

Copyright © 2014 Emma Blogs LLC All rights reserved.

http://etravelandfood.wordpress.com

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.