As many of you are aware, I lived in Central Europe for almost 17 years. During that time I came to love the culture and the people of the region, from their quirky ways, different from mine, to their interesting way of handling situations in new ways, as well as their traditions.
Traditions are rife during the Christmas Season in Central Europe. This year we had the opportunity to come and visit my husband’s family for the holiday. It never fails to amaze me the strict traditions that are followed by, I’m taking liberty here, about 99% of the population.
Christmas is mostly celebrated in Europe and the rest of the world on December 24th as opposed to December 25 in most of the United States of America. This is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years and the evening is spent with the family. The whole of Central Europe closes pretty much from 12 Noon on the 24th until the morning of the 27th December. When I say “closes,” I mean, a FULL shut down. Don’t be fooled, you really can’t do anything but hang out and watch odd “Christmas Fairytales” on television if you stay in the cities. You have to go to the ski resorts in order to have only restaurants, slopes and perhaps an Ice Village or other type of Christmas Attraction open. This can be quite difficult for those of us used to having a very limited time off. It’s quite healthy for society to have breaks and Central Europeans take them with vigor.
That said, the evening of December 24th is a time when families gather and eat traditional meals together. In Slovakia, there are courses and courses that are served. These include, in this order and not to be deviated from this order: Cabbage and Mushroom Soup with Cabbage Bread, Kielbasa with mustard, Carp or Schnitzel or a “meat roll,” or all three with beet salad, potato salad, and is followed by a desert of sorts, which is normally made with millions and billions of poppy seeds. Although the meal is very tasty it can sometime feel as almost an obligation to eat for an hour or more.
At some point after the dinner, a bell is rung. The bell signals that Ježiško pronounced yay-zhee-shko has come to visit the home and has dropped off gifts under the tree for all at the table. The only way I can describe Ježiško is literally a flying baby Jesus that flies around the world dropping off gifts just like Santa Claus. Ježiško lights up the evening for both children and adults alike.
Once Ježiško comes and goes and everyone opens the presents, it’s usually time to go to Church. Either to the 10 pm or Midnight Mass. This is also taken quite seriously and everyone is made to feel it necessary to go to Church. I get it, It’s the reason for the season for most persons, so it’s only rightfully required. At any rate, celebrating Christmas in Slovakia or Central Europe is a fun and enlightening affair. Other attractions all over Europe are the Christmas Markets that take over nearly every square in every town.