Monday, January 24

Christmas in Europe: carp in the bathtub and other Czech traditions


Imagine the Czech idyll. It is the night of December 24 and the immediate family is sitting down for Christmas Eve meal, the highlight of the holiday season.

In the days before, he would have visited one of the thousands of tent sellers that line the streets of the country.

For the traditional minded, you would have bought your tent alive and kept it in the bathtub until December 24th.

For the more squeamish, the carp vendor would kill and skin for you.

Despite the fact that December 24 is known as “generous day” (Štědrý den), many Czechs still fast until dinner. If they do, the children are told to look for a golden pig (zlaté prase), a sign of good luck for the coming year.

After dinner, the family takes turns opening an apple. If the core shows a star, it means that there will be a birth next year; a cross means death.

Then come the gifts. But instead of being brought in by a red-clad Santa Claus or a variant of Saint Nicholas, Czech children eagerly await the gifts delivered by the Infant Jesus (Ježíšek).

For some families, the Child Jesus also brings the Christmas tree, which is erected by the parents on December 24 at night.

After the family jovialidades of Christmas Eve, December 25 is celebrated the Feast of the Divine Christmas (Boží hod vánoční), a day to visit other relatives or friends and eat the leftovers.

The next day, St. Stephen’s Day sees more of the same and (in the days leading up to the pandemic) door-to-door Christmas carols, as well as nonstop reruns of famous fairytale movies, including the ever-popular The Proud Princess.

The Christmas traditions of all countries are a mixture of the local and the global, and since the late 2000s, numerous Czech civil society groups have campaigned every winter period to keep Santa Claus, and other Anglo-Saxon customs. , away from the minds of citizens. Czech children.

For many, American consumerism is the second round. After Czechoslovakia fell to communism in 1948, the new regime attempted to replace the Christian Baby Jesus with the socialist grandfather Frost (Děda Mráz), the traditional Russian gift bearer.

In 1952, the Communist Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia, Antonín Zapotocky, told children in a television speech that the Baby Jesus who had once brought them gifts had grown up to be Grandfather Frost.

But the Czechs did not buy the Russian import, and neither do they now accept the American import of Santa Claus.

“We love Czech traditions. We want to keep the Czech traditions. This means that there is no Grandfather Frost, and no Santa Claus, ”Eva Fruhwirtová, spokesperson for the Zachraňte Ježíška (“ Save the Baby Jesus ”) group, told local media in 2008, when it was created.

The Facebook page of “Antisanta.cz”, another group, now has more than 1,000 followers. “Our goal,” states its website, “is to bring Santa Claus back to where he belongs: the United States, England and other states with Anglo-Saxon tradition.”

The baby Jesus as a gift bearer is attributed to Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer who suggested in the 16th century that it would be more appropriate for a Christian holiday to celebrate the generosity of Jesus, rather than Saint Nicholas, a figure seen by many Protestant reformers. they are too close to Catholic superstition. The Czechs are not alone in this tradition. Other parts of Central Europe, including parts of southern Germany, still cling to tradition, while gifts featuring Jesus are also a feature of Christmas in some Latin American cultures.

But Ježíšek’s overt Christian reference and resistance to a secular Santa Claus seems out of place in the Czech Republic, now one of the least religious countries in Europe.

According to a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center, only 29 percent of Czechs said they believe in God, by far the lowest rate in Eastern Europe. By comparison, 59 percent of Hungarians and 86 percent of Poles believed in an all-powerful creator.

Another Pew survey published in 2019 found that only 9 percent of Czechs said religion is very important in their daily lives, one of the lowest rates in Europe.

“Among those who attend religious services there are predominantly people who visit the church only on the occasion of a holiday,” stated a 2001 study, Religion and Secularization in the Czech Republic.

In fact, this is nothing new; in 1991, only 3 percent of Czechs said they visited church at least once a month, but 13 percent did so on Christmas Eve.

A study by the market research institute GfK in 2016 found that 31 percent of Czechs said they planned to go to midnight mass on December 24.

Another tradition that shows no signs of defeat is the Christmas tent. Instead of an Anglo-Saxon turkey, the Czechs prefer this freshwater fish, traditionally fried in breadcrumbs and served with potato salad.

In about the week leading up to December 24, the streets of most Czech towns and cities are lined with tanks of bubbling carp so that customers can choose their preferred fish.

This year, around 3,000 carp vendors signed up to sell their livestock in markets and on the streets, according to local media reports. In the past, it was customary for most households to buy their live tents and have them at home, usually in the bathtub, before consuming them on December 24. Today, it is more common for carp sellers to kill and skin fish on demand.

According to one theory, carp was popular with Central European Catholics in the Middle Ages because meat was forbidden during the Advent fast and Christmas Eve was the last day of the fast.

Another theory posits that it was a dominant custom in the late 16th century because the Czech lands, mainly southern Bohemia, became important freshwater fish production areas.

Every year the Czech media report on how most foreigners in the country do not like the taste of carp and indeed how many Czechs do not like the muddy taste too much, even if they keep it up for the sake of tradition. .

Non-traditionalists replace their carp with chicken schnitzel, another Central European staple.

But the famous potato salad is in no danger of being replaced, and each family has its own distinctive recipe.


www.euronews.com

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