This is the first time that I am spending Christmas away from Kenya and with a new family.
It’s even more interesting to me that the most important Czech Christmas celebration is marked on 24th of December and not 25th like in most countries around the world. This is mainly because they believe that Baby Jesus was actually born on Christmas Eve making it the most important day of Christmas celebrations, making 25th a celebration of his birthday – also a symbolic holiday here.
Now to dig into the history of Jesus birthday – the earliest source stating 25th as the birth day was by Hippolytus of Rome (170-236) – the most important 3rd-century theologian in the Christian Church in Rome. This was based on the assumption that the conception of Jesus took place at spring equinox which he placed on March 25th but could have been on any twenty-something date. In addition, there is historical evidence that by the middle of the 4th century the Christian churches of the East celebrated the birth and baptism of Jesus on January 6th while those in the West celebrated a nativity feast on December 25th (said to have been influenced by winter solstice). Depending on their hemispherical location, there are also some countries that mark Christmas celebrations in July. In summary, Jesus could have actually not have been born on 25th December but the day ended up to be the most convenient and most universally accepted day to celebrate.
Back to our Czech Christmas on 24th December …
On Christmas Eve we woke up early and started wrapping Christmas gifts. I just hadn’t done this for at least ten years. Wonder what happened to the culture we had at home when I was younger. There is a Czech Christmas tradition where some people fast throughout Christmas Eve in the hope that they will see a vision of a golden pig that should appear on the wall before dinner. Meant to be a sign of good luck, I had slept the previous night promising myself that I would fast all day but when I woke up to the smell of a freshly baked Christmas pastries, I just threw that fasting pact out of the window. For Christmas Brunch we had Vánočka, tea and coffee. Vánočka can be loosely translated in English as Christmas Loaf and is another special Czech delicacy only made during the Christmas Celebrations. It was warm, fresh off the oven and had a rich taste. Loved the nuts and fruits!
For Christmas Lunch we had Staročeský Kuba, an old traditional meat-free Czech recipe, made in groats (oat, wheat, rye and barley) with mushrooms. I read somewhere that some families that had fasting individuals waiting to see the golden pig would still eat Kuba as an exception and it was befitting as its cheap and simple to make, making it the perfect Christmas dish for families from all walks of life. Kuba is yummy dish for me because of the mushrooms – which Czechs have a thing for. They are big in mushrooms cuisine and gathering the same in the forests. I have always loved mushrooms and appreciate a people who know how yummy a mushroom can be.
Before Christmas Dinner started we said grace. We first had traditional Fish Soup (made of carp), and fried Fish (Zander and Perch) paired in the yummiest potato salad I’ve ever had. It had Pickle Sauce and Lemon. After that David (Tomas’ brother) played the piano as we [I tried 🙂 ] sang some Czech Christmas Carols.
After dinner, Christmas gifts are taken down to sit by the Christmas tree. So we took them down and this was followed by the most serious gift ceremony I’ve ever attended. We all sat around and David handed over gifts to individuals, one by one, after which each person would open theirs and the person who gifted them would explain why they got them that gift or some piece of useful information. It was bomb!
In summary, I am more than impressed at how Czechs have stayed true and strict to their Christmas celebrations – that first they continue to mark it on the 24th of December and second – eat the same exact dishes over time immemorial. Tomas informs me that the same Christmas dinner is had across ALL households and only had once a year – during Christmas celebrations and is not something you can even order at a restaurant on a normal day. They want to know how we spend Christmas in Kenya and I explain that usually a goat gets slaughtered and other delicacies that may include duck and rabbit. I think for us, like for them too, spending Christmas is all about spending time with family and loved ones. I think it’s however general that Kenyans go way more ham on food – it’s always a feast like a wedding or funeral would be.
So how does it feel to celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December? Pretty much the same as the spirit and intention is the same and it almost always feels the same from 24th all the way to Boxing Day. I am happy to taste some different culture and spend it with really loving and awesome people. I just missed being dirty in the village doing weird chores – you know how it gets at shagz. Veselé Vánoce from wherever you are reading this! Enjoy your holidays!
BONUS: I found a dope site that documents how different countries mark Christmas: Here is it – thank me later