Czech Christmas Traditions: Nativity Scenes, Superstitions and Carp

Czech Christmas Traditions: Nativity Scenes, Superstitions and Carp

What songs do Czech people sing, what do they eat, how do they decorate their houses and where do they go at Christmas?

HomeWhat's NewCzech Christmas Traditions: Nativity Scenes, Superstitions and Carp
At Christmas, Czechs traditionally serve carp for dinner and keep some of its scales in their wallets for good financial luck, girls throw their shoes, and many other unusual customs are followed. Everything has its meaning in the Advent period. Here you can read more about Czech Christmas customs.

Carp in the bathtub, for dinner and even in the wallet

Czechs traditionally serve carp with potato salad for Christmas dinner. It was not before the 19th century that carp made its way onto Czech Christmas tables, but it has been an indispensable symbol of Czech Christmas ever since. Poached carp with vegetables and spices is one of the traditional recipes. Before Christmas, carp is sold directly in the centres of Czech cities and towns, so do not be surprised if you come across large tanks full of carp on your walk through Prague.  They come mostly from traditional fish farming regions, such as the well-known area around the town of Třeboň.

Czechs find a use for nearly all parts of the carp at Christmas and nothing goes to waste. It is customary to put one or two carp scales in your wallet, because it is believed it ensures that there will always be money in it right throughout the year. Some families buy a carp although they do not eat it – they keep it in the bathtub for a couple of days like a Christmas pet and then let it go in a nearby river or pond.

Before the arrival of carp, Czechs used to serve another festive dish called “kuba”, which is made of hulled grain, mushrooms, garlic and marjoram, and is now making somewhat of a comeback.

Nativity Scenes

Nativity scenes play an important role in the Czech Republic at Christmas. In the village of Třešt  in the Vysočina region, several families have constructed and looked after their own nativity scenes for more than two hundred years. They also have a Museum of Nativity Scenes open throughout the year. At Christmas, many of these families who own a nativity scene open their homes to visitors.
Equally unique is the nativity scene constructed by Jan Probošt in Třebechovice pod Orebem in East Bohemia. It is the only nativity scene that has been declared national cultural heritage.

It was completed more than one hundred years ago, features over two thousand carved components and has a special mechanism that sets the scene in motion. Jan Probošt started to create this nativity scene at the end of the 19th century, when he somewhat immodestly decided that he would build the most beautiful nativity scene in the whole world, one that even the Emperor from Vienna would come to see. You may also admire it – at the Třebechovice Museum of Nativity Scenes.

Another symbol of Czech Christmas is the Child of Prague  statue in the Church of Our Lady Victorious in the Lesser Quarter. On special occasions, it is dressed in royal vestments with ermine fur; otherwise its gowns change with the seasons and of course it has a special one for Christmas. Pilgrims from all over the world come to see the Child of Prague each year, including many famous persons. Rumour has it that it inspired the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry to write The Little Prince, and there are others who have prayed to it for success and glory, one of them being the well-known Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, who likes to remember it. Why not see it for yourself, perhaps it will provide you with some inspiration for Christmas.

Czech Christmas Mass 

Another custom is to attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and also to listen to the Czech Christmas Mass composed by Jakub Jan Ryba. This religious musical composition tells the story of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth and the arrival of shepherds in Bethlehem. Its setting in the Bohemian countryside makes it very popular among Czech people.

You may wish to attend the Midnight Mass which is traditionally celebrated at the  St. Vitus Cathedral  at Prague Castle,  or listen to the Czech Christmas Mass in the Mirror Chapel in the monumental premises of Prague’s Klementinum, which is also the seat of the National Library.

The Prague Loreta

After many years of restoration works, The Prague Loreta has again been opened to the public. This unique complex of baroque buildings on the Loreta Square near Prague Castle is known for its carillon, the Chapel of the Virgin Mary, the Capuchin Monastery and the traditional Advent concerts.

Of course we must not forget what is perhaps the most important of Czech Christmas traditions – decorating the Christmas tree. We should therefore mention Czech open-air museums, such as the one in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm where you may watch how hand-made decorations are crafted. A presentation of Czech folk customs, including the baking of traditional Christmas sweet bread, can be enjoyed in the open air museum in Zubrnice.

Shoe-throwing and the golden pig

Like everyone else, Czech people have always looked for ways how to foretell the future and Christmas has always been the perfect time for fortune-telling. According to one popular superstition, girls are supposed to throw a shoe at Christmas. If the tip points towards the door, the girl will be married within a year. When the shoe points in the opposite direction, the girl will remain single for at least another year. Also, all women should get a kiss under the mistletoe to have love guaranteed throughout the next year. But be careful, like love, the mistletoe cannot be bought; it must be given to you.

Other traditions are supposed to have the answer to questions about our health. Don’t worry, there is no need to go to the doctor, all you have to do is cut an apple in half. When the seeds inside form a five-pointed star, everyone sitting at the table will remain healthy. But if there are less than five seeds, someone will fall ill. According to another custom, you should stick a candle in a half of a nutshell and place it on water (you can use the basin). If your “boat” sails away from the edge, it means you can expect to do some travelling in the next year.  

Yet another Czech Christmas tradition is fairly peculiar and not very pleasant – it tells us to fast all day on December 24. If you succeed, you will, so they say, see a golden pig, which supposedly is a good sign. Unfortunately, with delicious Christmas treats everywhere, this task is almost impossible to accomplish.