The beautiful country of the Czech Republic, (also known more recently as Czechia), is located in central Europe. It is recognized worldwide as the most castle-rich country in Europe, for its Pilsner beer, and its medieval landscapes. Notable people born in the Czech Republic include Martina Navratilova, Ivan Lendl (tennis pros), Milos Forman (film director), Sigmund Freud (psychologist), and Oskar Schindler (Schindler’s).
Our family has spent the Christmas holidays with our Czech family playing in the snow, baking Kolache, enjoying the Christmas lights, and walking amidst decorated pine trees in the CZ. If you’re planning to spend the holidays in Prague or the CZ, it’s always good to have some background knowledge of the country’s traditions. Here are 4 Czech customs celebrated during the Christmas holidays.
- Saint Nicholas Day celebrated on December 6th is the kick start to the Christmas holidays. If you find yourself in Czechia on this day don’t be surprised if you see people dressed as St. Nicholas, resembling Santa Claus. You may also see an angel representing good, or the devil representing evil. These dressed characters walk the streets stopping children to ask them if they have been naughty or nice. Those who have been good receive sweets and treats, whereas the bad ones receive sacks filled with coal or potatoes. It’s believed that St. Nicholas inspired our U.S. American Santa Claus.
- December 24 is known as “Štědrý de” which literally translates to “Generous Day.” This is the most celebrated day of the Czech Christmas holidays. The tradition is to fast first with hope of seeing “the golden pig,” which is a sign of good luck. Then, the custom is to break the fast with a hearty dinner on Christmas Eve. This dinner usually consists of fish as the main course with potato salad, soup and sauerkraut. After dinner, families gather around the Christmas tree and sing Christmas carols. By then, Ježíšek ‘Little Jesus’ has placed presents around the tree for the children in the family. Presents are opened after everyone has finished their meal.
- Kolaches (koláč, koláče in Czech) are traditionally a sweet Czech pastry enjoyed and served during holidays and at weddings. They are a special treat at Christmas. Kolaches are made with a yeast dough shaped into rounds or squares. In the CZ they are completely enclosed and filled in the middle with traditional fillings such as farmers cheese, apricot jam, or poppy seeds as well as gingerbread during the Christmas season. In Texas, a well is created, and they are open on top. They may be savory and include sausage or jalapeno. Kolaches were brought to Texas with the Czech immigrant communities, especially in rural Texas, and more flavors emerged such as sausage, jalapeño, and nutella. In the Czech Republic today, these light, fluffy treats can be found at bakeries around CZ like these shops in Prague. If you want to try your hand at making them yourself, see this recipe.
- The two days after Christmas are considered to be the First and Second Christmas Holidays, or the Christmas Feast Boží hod vánoční and St. Stephen’s Day. Czechs from the community sing Christmas carols in the neighborhood. Many Czechs rest and relax on these days.
Now that you have more knowledge about the unique traditions Czechs follows during the Christmas holidays, consider booking a ticket and experiencing it yourself. Don’t be naughty or you will receive a sack of coal. I hope you learn to say ‘Veselé Vánoce,‘ or Merry Christmas in Czech.
Sharon Schweitzer and Sophie Echeverry co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre and the Intercultural Communication Institute, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, and Fortune. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards and the 2017 New York City Big Book Award for Multicultural Nonfiction.
Sophie Echeverry is the corporate marketing manager and event coordinator at Access to Culture. Born and raised in Colombia, she’s a 2018 graduate with a B.B.A. in International Business and Marketing from Hult International Business School in San Francisco, CA. Connect with her on LinkedIn.