Veselé Vánoce!

Veselé Vánoce! It’s Christmas Eve, traditionally the most important day for Czechs in this holiday season of good cheer.

It is on this day that Christmas presents are exchanged – left under the tree by Ježíšek (the Baby Jesus) – following a meal of fried carp and potato salad.

Known as Štědrý den, or “generous day”, December 24 is traditionally a day for fasting before feasting (in that no meat is served). And for generations of Czechs, it is also a time for enjoying televised fairytales about princes and paupers, damsels and devils.

During the totalitarian regime, the Soviets attempted to foist a Russian Christmas character upon the Czechs. This kindly gent, known as “Grandfather Frost”, held a position similar to that of Santa Claus.

Grandfather was thoroughly rejected in the country, and now, the Czechs are waging the same sort of battle against Jolly Old St. Nicholas. While they have no objection to Santa Claus being the center of holiday celebrations in other countries, the tradition here is for Ježíšek to bring presents to children.

Eventually, families round off their dinner by singing carols at the table and then move towards the Christmas tree. However, the children will have to wait just a bit longer.

They are told to go into a different room, where they’ll be waiting for “Ježíšek” to bring the gifts. He’ll typically enter the house through an open window and put the presents under the lit tree.

Children will only be allowed to enter the room after he has jingled a bell.

For some families, the Baby Jesus also brings the Christmas tree, which is erected by parents on December 24th evening.

After familial jovialities of Christmas Eve, December 25th sees the Divine Christmas Feast (Boží hod vánoční), a day for visiting other family members or friends and eating leftovers.

The next day, St. Stephen’s Day sees more of the same and (in pre-pandemic days) door-to-door carolling, as well as unbroken repeats of famed fairy-tale movies, including the ever-popular The Proud Princess.

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