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Customs & Traditions

Czech River

Czech Name Day Celebrations

A number of countries worldwide celebrate name days based on a calendar with names assigned to each day of the year.  Most of the names originate from the saints of the Catholic or Orthodox churches.  Traditionally, all children are given a name from the name day calendar and this custom continues into modern times.  This way, each person in the country has the chance to receive a gift on their own name day each year.  A common practice is to celebrate the person's special day by presenting a small gift card and wishing them happiness.


 

gift

 

St. Joseph's Day (Den Svatého Josefa), March 19:

Similar to the Irish St. Patrick's Day, the Czech St. Joseph's Day is more subdued, and is celebrated around the same time in March each year.  One of the most common Czech male names is Joseph and has been the case for many years.  The village of Josefovice at one time had to have at least one person named Joseph in every house.  There are other male names in modern times which have take over in popularity, but there are over 260,000 Czech men today named Joseph.  St. Joseph's Day is celebrated across the country and televised on Czech media each year.

Burning FireThe Burning of the Witches, April 30: 

This custom takes place on the evening of April 30th as Czechs build bonfires and create an effigy of the legendary witch who perpetuated winter.  The old belief was that witches' powers diminished as the weather warmed.  Thus, in burning a witch figure, it was believed that the cold weather could be eradicated much more quickly. The process begins with forming a cross by tying two large sticks together.  Next, old shirts, pants and socks would be stuffed with straw and a pointed hat would be placed on top.  This mass of clothing would be tied to a broomstick set aside.   After dark, over a roaring file, people would then roast sausages, play musical instruments and sing folk songs. After nightfall, the effigy would be brought out in the open and thrown on the fire for all to see it burn.  As the witch burns up, so does the chill of the winter.  In some villages, children play a larger role in creating bonfires.  This becomes a sort of competition to see who can build the largest bonfire.  A large ugly doll portrays the witch and is paraded throughout the village.  The children eventually throw torches onto the doll as they all imagine that the evil spirits in the village go up in smoke along with the effigy.

Czech Easter (Velikonoce) meaning "great nights"

In the years before 1989, the celebrations of Easter were limited to merely the welcoming of Spring.  The religious meanings behind Easter were suppressed under the Communist regime.  Today, modern Czechs are again strongly aware of the Christian meaning behind Easter, although Easter has still not become a serious religious holiday.  Instead, Easter is celebrated as a cheerful and fun holiday.  Many villages observe their own special set of Easter customs and traditions.  Easter is one of the most joyful holidays in the Czech nation.

easter eggsEaster Eggs and Kraslice

Kraslice is the Czech name for the hand-painted and decorated Easter eggs that girls create to give to boys on Easter Monday.  There are very elaborate egg decorating skills which take much training to acquire.  A variety of materials are used to make these eggs unique, including straw, watercolors, bee's wax, onion peels and stickers.  Geometric patterns are very common as well as snowflake and flower patterns.  A national Easter egg contest is held in Prague and other Czech cities each year.  Recently, money and shots of plum brandy are often given out in place of eggs.  In many villages, groups of happy men can be seen strolling along the roads.

Pussywillow TwigsPussywillow and Pomlázka

Czech traditional belief is that young, live pussywillow twigs are thought to instill youth and health to anyone who is whipped with them.  It is common practice to make a pomlázka (from the word pomladit meaning to make younger), which is a braided whip constructed of pussywillow twigs.  For centuries, young boys go caroling on Easter Monday and symbolically whip girls on the legs. Even famers' wives would whip livestock and everyone in the house including men and children. The reason behind this ritual is to chase away illness and bad spirits and bring good health and youth to everyone who gets whipped.  In the past, boys made their own pomlázka, but now can purchase these ready- made in local stores and vendor stands.  Some men take a short cut and just use a single twig or even a wooden spatula. 

Two Days Before Easter Sunday 

Children finish school on Wednesday before Easter so they can spend time decorating Easter eggs.  On Thursday evening, prior to Good Friday, boys spend time finding specially made wooden rattles which they then carry in groups as they walk through the village streets.  They shake these rattles vigorously to create a racket in an effort to chase away Judas.  The same ritual occurs again on Good Friday when the boys not only walk the streets, but stop at every house to solicit money which they later split amongst themselves.

May 1, the Time of Love:

Karel Hynek Mácha (1810-1836), a famous Czech romantic poet wrote a beautiful love poem about the tragic love of two young people which has become a poetic masterpiece of the Czech romantic period.  Each year, on May 1st, couples gather at the Karel Hynek Mácha statue in Petřín Park where they lay bouquets of flowers and spend some time.  Petřín Park is very romantic in spring when cherry trees are in bloom.  May 1st is now a national holiday. 

 

 

The July Holidays
 

Cyril and Methodius and John Huss Day

July 5: The Day of Slavic Missionaries Cyril and Methodius

Important figures in Czech history, Cyril and Methodius, were Bysantine Greek brothers.  These two men brought Christianity to the Great Moravian Empire in the year 863 and also created the Slavonic language and alphabet.  The also translated the Bible and promoted Christianity and the old Slavonik language throughoutGreat Moravia. 

July 6: Anniversary of the Execution of Han Hus

This holiday honors Jan Hus who was an important Czech religious reformer who was burned at the stake in 1415.  His death marked the beginning of the Hussite wares of the 15th century.

 

St. Martin's Day, November 11th 

At 11 AM sharp on November 11th, almost every winery and restaurant in the Czech Republic opens the first wines that are produced that year.  These are the young wines.  This celebration is very similar to the one in France called the French Beaujolais Noveau.  However, the Czech ritual has been in existence much longer than the one in France.  St. Martin's wine is the first wine from the autumn harvest.  This celebration which dates back to Emperor Joseph II, symbolizes the end of the harvest, or the beginning of winter.  The tradmark " Svatomartinské vino", or St. Martin's wine was registered in 1995 and since 2005, has been owned by the Wine Fund of the Czech Republic.  The varieties of wine are strictly specified in this description.  The brand name Svatomartinské vino may be used by any winery registered in the Czech Republic who can meet the strict requirements. The young wine is low in alcohol content and is light and fresh tasting.

Christmas Eve (Štědrý den)

For many Czechs, Christmas Eve is the most pleasurable day of the Christmas holiday season.  Štědrý den literally translates as "generous day" stemming from the abundance of food that is prepared and served on Christmas Day.  Even the poorest of families would traditionally make sure that their homes were filled with food on this day.  Traditional Czech Christmas ornaments decorate the Christmas trees and preparations are made for the most festive dinner of the year. 

 

Christmas Dinner

  • Christmas DinnerNo person was allowed to sit with their back to the door.
  • Alcohol was forbidden to be consumed on Christmas Eve.
  • Everyone would rise from the table at exactly the same time as it was believed that the first person to leave the table would be the first person to die in the coming year.
  • Everyone was required to eat all food on their plates.
  • Any remaining food on plates would be buried beside trees to ensure they would bear much fruit in the coming year.
  • Table legs would be tied with rope to protect the home from thieves in the new year.
  • Christmas dinner would consist of nine courses, including carp, potato salad, soup, bread and honey.  There are over a hundred different recipes to prepare carp.

Christmas CarpNote about Carp: Carp is raised in manmade ponds and then sold on the streets from large tubs in town squares a few days prior to Christmas.  This will not occur at any other time during the year.  Many families purchase carp early and place the carp as a temporary pet for their children, in the family bath tub before serving it as Christmas dinner.

 

Christmas Gifts 

Christmas treeAfter eating Christmas dinner, Czechs will traditionally sing Christmas carols at the table before moving the party to the Christmas tree where people will begin to open gifts.  Gifts are not believed to be brought by Santa Claus, but instead by Baby Jesus who enters the house through the window.  Just like Santa, Jesus received wish list letters from Czech children a few weeks prior to Christmas. 

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve

A Christmas Eve midnight mass is held at many churches.  Some masses begin as early as 10:00 PM, and earlier masses are held for children in the afternoon.

December 25 and 26

Christmas in the Czech Republic stretches over until the end of December 26th.  These two days are referred to as the First and Second Christmas Holidays, or the Christmas Feast and St. Stephen's Day.  In the past, St. Stephen's DAy was a day of visiting homes and singing Christmas Carols, but this has ceased.  Today, most families stay home or visit homes of relatives.
 

Miscellaneous Customs

  • Czechs enjoy meeting in pubs and sharing Czech beer.  These gatherings provide meaningful times with friends and family.  Insert istock image #8790846
  • Czech people enjoy barbeques in summer months.
  • It is considered rude to point at someone using an index finger.beer
  • It is customary to remove one's shoes before entering someone's home.  Guests are offered house slippers called pantofle.
  • Czechs who reside in big cities year round often retreat to their summer houses during warm months.

Village of the Year

honeyThis is a nationwide competition that aims to draw attention to small municipalities and to encourage people of small communities to take active part in the development of their home.  There has been an award given to the village of the year since 1995.  This is done to point out the importance of the countryside to the public.  This event is organized by the Association for Rural Development of the Czech Republic, the Ministry for Regional Development, the Union of Towns and Municipalities of the Czech Republic and the Ministry of Agriculture of the Czech Republic.  Municipalities of village-like character with a total population of up to 6300 residents can participate in the competition.  In total, 305 municipalities participated in the 17th Village of the Year competition in 2011.  This has become a very popular tradition in the Czech Republic. 

 

Other State and Public Holidays

January 1st, 1993 is celebrated as teh date of the foundation of the Czech Republic.  January 1st is called New Year's Day

May 1st is celebrated as May Dy, when political parties on the left celebrate a holiday for the working people.

Czech flag

May 8th marks the day of the liberation of Czechoslovakia from the Nazis.  This day marks the end of WWII.

 

September 28th or St. Wenceslas Day is celebrated as the recognition of the saint patron of the Czech lands.

October 28th, 1918 is the date of the foundation of the first independent Czechoslovak Republic.

November 2nd is the day where Czechs celebrate their ancestors.  This day is dedicated to honoring deceased family members much like Memorial Day is in the United States.  People go to cemeteries to decorate graves with flowers.

November 17th is celebrated as the beginning of the Velvet Revolution.

 

Magical Powers of Plants and FoodsAerial of town

Apples: If an apple is given to goats on Christmas Eve, it is believed that their milk will be sweet.

Garlic: Garlic is rarely missing from any Christmas dinner as it is believed to provide strength and protection.  Often, a bowl of garlic is simply placed beneath the dining room table. 

Honey: A pot of honey is usually placed on the dinner table, believed to guard against evil.

Mushrooms: Mushrooms, thought to give health and strength, are used in a traditional meal called kuba, prepared from dried mushrooms, barley, garlic, onions, and spices.  Mushroom soup is often served as an appetizer before dinner.

Sheaf of Grain: A bundle of grain, dipped in holy water, is often used to sprinkle the house to prevent it from catching fire in the coming year.

Poppyseeds, Peas, Wheat, and Barley: These grains are fed to hens on Christmas Eve to romote abundant eggs in the coming year.

Vánočka or Christmas Bread: If this bread is fed to family cattle on Christmas Eve, it is believed that there will be ample milk in the new year.  Putting a few vánočka crumbs in front of bee hives will promote abundant honey.