Joza Upraka Exhibit at National Gallery 2011

The Czech Republic is recognized worldwide as Europe’s most castle-rich country, for its beautiful medieval landscapes, and also for its highest consumption of beer per capita. In addition, notable Czech-born people include Martina Navratilova and Ivan Lendl (tennis pros), Milos Forman (film director), Sigmund Freud (psychologist), and Oskar Schindler (Schindler’s List).

My maternal grandmother’s homeland is the Czech Republic. My husband John, my parents, and I have been blessed to spend the holidays (pre-Covid) with our Czech family in Prague and Moravia. Both are a magical places, and the Moravian villages are a winter wonderland.  We enjoy frolicking in the snow, noshing on Kolache, marveling at the Christmas lights, and walking in the forest. If you have Czech ancestry, or an interest in all things Czech, it’s fascinating to learn a few traditions. Here are four, of the many, Czech customs celebrated during the Christmas holidays.

  1. Saint Nicholas Day celebrated on December 6th is the kick start to the Christmas holidays. If you find yourself in the nation on this day, you may see people dressed as St. Nicholas, resembling Santa Claus. You may also see an angel representing good, or the devil representing evil. These characters walk the streets stopping children to inquire if they’ve been naughty or nice. Those who have been good receive sweets and treats; however, the naughty ones receive sacks of coal or potatoes. It’s believed that St. Nicholas inspired our U.S. American Santa Claus.
  2. 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 first fast; hoping to see “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. When the singing is complete, Ježíšek ‘Little Jesus’ has finished placing presents under the tree for the children. Presents are opened after dinner and carols.
  3. 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, completely enclosed and filled with farmer’s cheese, apricot jam, prune, or poppy seed as well as gingerbread during the Christmas season. In Texas, a well is created, the dough is 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 like these shops in Prague. If you want to try your hand at making them yourself, see this recipe.
  4. December 26 and 27 are the two days after Christmas and are considered to be the First and Second Christmas Holidays, They are referred to as the Christmas Feast Boží hod vánoční and St. Stephen’s Day. Czechs from the community sing Christmas carols in the neighborhood or village. Many Czechs rest and relax on these days, recovering from the festivities of the past few days.

Now that you have more knowledge about the unique traditions Czechs follow during the Christmas holidays, please share your holiday traditions with us. Veselé Vánoce is Merry Christmas in Czech and we wish you a wonderful holiday!

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a diversity and inclusion consultant, cross-cultural trainer, modern manners and etiquette 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 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, won a coveted Kirkus Star, and was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the Greater Austin Business Awards.

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