With Christmas just around the corner, you see Christmas trees and lights everywhere in Brno. Of course, in the shops, you could have seen the decorations since October. Talk about the Christmas spirit, right? Have you ever wondered how Czechs and Slovaks celebrate Christmas? Which aspects are the same, but which are drastically different from your countries? Let’s take a (not so) deep dive into the traditions of this lovely time of year.


In the Czech Republic, Christmas Eve, aka December 24, is considered to be the peak of Christmas. Various traditions are associated with Christmas, including a Christmas tree, a manger (nativity scene), Christmas presents carried by Ježíšek (baby Jesus), and Christmas cookies (vánoční cukroví). Some of these traditions date back to pre-Christian times and are related to the solstice celebrations, which also falls on these days. Nowadays, however, the original, religious meaning of Christmas is disappearing, and Christmas is also considered one of the most important civic holidays.


A key part of Christmas is a nativity scene. The first was presented to the public by the Jesuits in 1560 in the church of Kliment in Prague. They were the first not only in Bohemia, but also in the whole of Central Europe. The basic figures are Baby Jesus in the manger, Mary and Joseph, a donkey and an ox, shepherds with flocks of sheep and figures of three kings - wise men from the East.


Interesting fact: building nativity scenes used to be the most widespread Christmas custom until the 19th century, when the Christmas tree became the new symbol of Christmas.



Nativity scene. Photo Jakub Sobotka


But what do Czechs eat for Christmas dinner? The dinner itself has traditionally consisted of fish soup, potato salad with carp, and there are certain customs during its consumption. For example, one plate more was eaten for an unexpected visitor, or a coin is placed under the plate. Whoever found it was to keep the money for a whole year. Another custom is that only the housewife could leave the Christmas Eve dinner until everyone had eaten. Some people however choose an alternative and eat schnitzel instead of carp, and mashed potatoes instead of the potato salad. Each family usually has their own traditions. 


Christmas cookies and their baking is one of the generally widespread Christmas traditions that is observed in a large part of Czech households. Most Christmas cookies are made from a mixture of flour, sugar, eggs, butter, cocoa, chocolate and various types of nuts and candied fruit. Among the typical ones are cookies made from Linze dough, which can be additionally flavored with grated coconut or cocoa. Typical aromas are vanilla and rum, typical spices are cinnamon.


Czech Christmas dinner photo via Rohlik


Czech Christmas dinner. Source: Expats.cz


But what about Slovakia? Christmas customs in Slovakia are very similar to the ones in Czechia, though we can find some differences. What is the same is the trees, as well as a fondness for Christmas markets. The most beautiful ones are in Bratislava: the market people make sure that there are truly genuine Slovak products. One of the most popular dishes, i.e. right after the svarák, are potato lokses – pancakes prepared in salty or sweet flavor. They can be filled with poppy seeds, cottage cheese, nuts, but they are also prepared with liver pâté. 


Even in Slovakia, no one should get up from the table on Christmas Eve. Many families cut an apple before eating - the star means good luck. Everyone also gets wafers baked from simple dough, which sometimes have the shape of our tubes. These are flavored with honey (for sweet life) and garlic (for health). Slovaks start with a proper vegetable, which varies from region to region, family to family. The main dish is carp with potato salad, which in many families has been replaced by fillet or salmon. The last course, especially in central Slovakia, is baked bread. Another Christmas Eve specialty is "štédrák" - a pie made from yeast dough. This is rolled out and then the individual layers are placed: dough - jam - dough - nut filling - dough - poppy seed filling - dough - cottage cheese and a grid is made on top. Christmas Day ends with a visit to midnight mass, and on December 25 a goose or duck is served with the meal.


Christmas traditions in Slovakia - Christmas dinner menu in Zemplín — The  Livin'


Wafers with honey and garlic. Source: The Livin'


Christmas is different in every village, so the text above merely attempts to summarize the traditions, and introduce them to you. But what about your country? Are the traditions we have here very different, or kind of the same? We wish you Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.