Czech holiday traditions explained

Perhaps you just arrived in Prague to study abroad. Perhaps you’ve been studying at university for several months. Either way, the holiday season can be a magical experience in the Golden City for the international student. Maybe while exploring the many Christmas markets or when chatting with Czech students, you’ve come across some of these local holiday customs. 

Advent Wreaths

Since the 11th century, Czechs have been preparing for the holiday season with Advent, which starts four weeks before Christmas. Around this time, wreaths with four candles are displayed in shops around the city. Sunday is the most important day of the week since it marks the lighting of all four candles on the wreath. 

Christmas Carp

A few days before December 24, you’ll see the streets lined with large tubs. These are for live carp, a Czech Christmas dinner specialty. Traditionally, dinner is served after sunset and consists of carp and potato salad, with a starter of sauerkraut, mushroom or fish soup. Some families even keep these slippery fish alive in the bathtub for several days before the feast, to ensure it’s freshness. Let’s just hope the children aren’t upset when their new pet suddenly appears on their plate! 

Predicting the Future and Good Omens

Foretelling the future is a major part of many Czech holiday traditions. Several customs, such as throwing a shoe over your shoulder or shaking an elder tree and seeing if a dog barks, are supposed to predict if a single woman will be married in the coming year. Some families cut apples in half to display the core. If the core is shaped like a four-pointed cross, someone at the table will fall ill or die within the year. 

While Christmas is generally about generosity, some traditions are focused on wealth. Some people place fish scales under their plates or in their wallets to ensure that money never runs out. Others fast all day until Christmas dinner in hopes of seeing a vision of the golden piglet, a symbol of prosperity. Maybe those Business Administration or Finance majors can use some of these customs to predict the health of their future careers. 

Presents

Unlike other countries, Czechs actually celebrate Christmas on December 24 instead of the morning after. Following holiday dinner, everyone sings carols and then gathers around the Christmas tree for the presents. Baby Jesus, as opposed to Santa Claus, is believed to have brought the gifts to the children by coming through the window, not down a chimney. But don’t worry; baby Jesus still accepts wish lists. 

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