Spending the holiday season in the Czech Republic

Studying abroad at UNYP can bring many unforgettable experiences. Of course, you will meet classmates from over 60 countries and learn their culture, but while you are in the Czech Republic, you have the opportunity to learn about Czech traditions as well. For those of you who will be staying in Prague in December, we have a comprehensive overview of Czech holiday traditions at this magical time.

Spend a cozy winter in Prague while studying abroad at UNYP

We will focus only on traditions that take place during the month of December. This is not a history lesson, but more of a cheat sheet for you to impress your local friends.

Christmas cookies

For Czech families, the Christmas season usually starts with these tasty treats. These are not limited to gingerbread cookies – every family has their own beloved mix of home-baked delicacies, and will often bake dozens of varieties. Cookie-baking is usually a social occasion, with the whole family involved. The keenest mothers start their Christmas cookie preparation in late November, so that cookies can be enjoyed on the first Advent Sunday. The best way to obtain home-baked Christmas cookies is to be invited to a Czech family home, although you can of course buy them in pastry shops.

Advent Sundays

Every Czech family buys or creates a Christmas table wreath with four candles on it, to mark the four Sundays before Christmas. The candles are burned on these Advent Sundays, days which are filled with festive activities and excitement. Family members spend time together, visiting relatives or enjoying the Christmas markets. Some families use this day to bake Christmas cookies and prepare the household for the festive season.

St. Nicholas Day (December 5th)

This day is celebrated in different ways in many countries. You might come across a group of three characters – St. Nicholas, an angel and a devil. St. Nicholas wears a long white or red robe with a tall bishop’s hat, but despite his big white beard, he is not to be confused with Santa Claus! In the evening, Czech children are assessed on how well they have behaved throughout the year. Each child must perform a song or a little poem, and they will usually be rewarded with a bag of sweets and fruit – but naughty children get coal and potatoes!

Christmas Day and Christmas Eve (December 24th)

This is the main Christmas holiday in the Czech Republic. Shops are closed for two days, and everyone follows their own family traditions. Each household is unique, but we will describe some of the most common and traditional customs. 

Fasting 

It is common in families to avoid eating any food until dinner time. The roots of this tradition are complicated, but all you need to know is that this tradition promotes discipline and prepares you for several days of non-stop eating to come. Those who have the self-discipline to fast for the entire day will be rewarded with a vision of a golden pig, which symbolizes the abundance of food.

Christmas carp

There is a stereotype (based on reality) that Czech eat fish only once a year – the carp which is served for Christmas dinner. Traditionally, the carp scales symbolize money, so some Czechs will even dry scales from the Christmas carp and keep them in their wallets to ensure prosperity in the New Year. Christmas carp is usually served breaded and fried, with a mayonnaise-based potato salad. In December, carp vendors sell live carp from pools in busy locations such as town squares, bus stops, and outside supermarkets. 

Baby Jesus aka “Ježíšek”

Instead of Santa Claus, it is Baby Jesus who brings Christmas presents to Czech children. Children leave their wish lists on the window for Baby Jesus, and if they have been good, he will bring them gifts. Baby Jesus usually alerts the family to his presence by a bell after dinner, which means that the gifts are ready under the Christmas tree. 

Christmas National Holidays (December 24th – December 26th) 

Czechs usually use these days to visit their relatives. Families go to each other’s households, taste their Christmas cookies and deliver any gifts that Baby Jesus might have forgotten. It is also common to watch Christmas movies on TV. Despite the wide choice of streaming services, many Czechs still love to catch their favorite Christmas movie on classic TV channels. 

New Year’s Eve aka “Silvestr” (December 31st)  

New Year’s Eve is very popular with young Czechs. Families and groups of friends throw parties with food, drinks and in some cases fireworks. It is legal in the Czech Republic to buy your own fireworks and use them outside.

These are the main customs that almost every Czech family follows, but of course, many families have activities and traditions of their own. We hope you will enjoy this unique time to get to know the Czech Republic and the Czech people a little more.  
 
 

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