Merry Christmas or Veselé Vánoce?

Veselé vánoce – and many thanks for the carp and potato salad. Now, what about that figgy Christmas pudding? 

Society|Local experience
Guest Writer | 20.12.2011
Who brings the presents when traditions mix — Ježíšek, Santa Claus, or both?

Along with carp and potato salad, followed by sweets prepared weeks in advance and a much-anticipated visit from Ježíšek (baby Jesus), who brings gifts to the children, a typical Czech holiday celebration now not so untypically includes a family member (or partner of one) who is from another country.

According to Interior Ministry figures, last year 4,110 marriages took place here between Czech and foreign nationals (2,403 marriages between a Czech woman and foreign male were recorded and 1,707 marriages between a Czech male and a foreign female). This, of course, doesn’t account for the number of Czechs with foreign partners who are unmarried –and those thousands of other marriages that took place in previous years. So what does a holiday celebration look like for these “mixed couples”?

A nativity scene on Old Town Square

Husband and wife Fernando and Saša have been together for four years. He is from Peru, and so far they have spent all of their Christmases together in Prague celebrating with Saša’s family, who come to the city to celebrate with them. Fernando says he incorporates very little of his own traditions into the holiday but rather has taken on Czech ones.

“I have adopted most of the Czech traditions for Christmas, such as opening presents on the 24th, having řížek (schnitzel) and bramborový salát (potato salad) — and beer. We go to bed early and do pretty much nothing on the actual Christmas day,” Fernando says. “In Peru, we open presents on the 25th, and in my family, for example, we stay up until midnight to wait for the arrival of baby Jesus and then open presents. Then we open presents again with the rest of my family – grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. – on the 25th and have a large dinner.

Czechs celebrate Christmas on December 24

There is, however, one tradition from his home country that Fernando simply can’t do without: “The only Peruvian tradition that is a must for me is to eat paneton, which is originally an Italian sweet bread, but it has been a strong tradition in Peru for decades,” he says. “I do that for weeks before and after Christmas!”

Fernando says that Saša has taken to paneton as well, “Yes, she likes it. It tastes a lot like Vánočka (a special bread made for Christmas)but better... Even she admits it.”

Shopping for carp on Old Town Square

For Petra and her partner Gareth there is a bit more of a mixing of traditions. Gareth is from the UK, and the couple has been together for about two and a half years. Each has a child from a previous relationship. Like Fernando and Saša, they have so far spent all of their Christmas celebrations in the Czech Republic.

“We celebrate both; on the 24th as is traditional in the Czech Republic and on the 25th as is traditional in the UK,” says Petra. “On the 24th, we normally eat fish — not carp — and on the 25th we have turkey. We give and receive gifts on both days. Our children receive presents from both Father Christmas and Ježíšek.”

For Tina and Tomáš, who have been together for eight years, having their first child has caused something of a predicament in regard to their holiday celebrations, because as in the words of Tina, who is from Slovenia, “more or less we don’t celebrate it.” ‘She’s still too little, so we probably have one more year to come up with a convincing story.’

“My family doesn’t celebrate – although my Dad is Catholic. We even used to get presents on December 21st and just ate something nice on Christmas. Tomáš’ family, they are Adventists, so they also don’t celebrate Christmas, but they get presents and eat something good,” Tina says. “I have no relationship with Christmas whatsoever, and I’m still not sure what to do with Mia [their daughter]. Who will be the person bringing her presents and when? No clue. She’s still too little, so we probably have one more year to come up with a convincing story.”

Hanukkah falls on the 25h day of the Jewish month of Kislev (Dec. 20-28, this year)

As for the three children of Mike and Štěpánka, who have been married for 17 years, their holiday celebrations include a fully Czech Christmas and a little bit of Hanukkah. Mike, who is American and has lived in the Czech Republic for 18 years, says that he only really started to celebrate Hanukkah here when they had children. Like his parents, Mike says he is not religious at all, so his celebration of the Jewish festival of lights resemble his parent’s celebration “in its brevity.”

“Honestly, I light the menorah for the first four or five nights, usually [Hanukkah is traditionally observed for eight nights and days] – but, one, I forget, and two, I don't have presents for my three kids after that, so I hope they forget after that,” he says. “This year it won’t matter so much with Christmas falling on day four. I do say the prayers, though.”‘Our kids have it pretty clear that Santa works American chimneys while Ježíšek distributes presents over here. They know Santa lives at the North Pole but were less satisfied with explanations of where Ježíšek lives.’

Mike adds that as is the case with his brother’s non-Jewish wife, it’s Štěpánka who pushes him to teach the children about Judaism. As for Christmas, Mike’s only experience of the holiday has been here in the Czech Republic, “Christmas is fully Czech. I’m a passive observer, eater and present opener.” However Mike and Štěpánka’ children have some ideas about the differences between an American Christmas and a Czech one. “Our kids have it pretty clear that Santa works American chimneys while Ježíšek distributes presents over here. They know that Santa lives at the North Pole but were less satisfied with explanations of where Ježíšek lives.”

For Emily and Radek, who have three children and have been married for eight years and a couple for nearly ten, they alternate where they spend their Christmas holiday each year. “This year will make our fourth Christmas in the Czech Republic and we've flown to the US for the other five,” Emily says.

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