Have yourself a merry little Vánoce

Have yourself a merry little Vánoce

One of my favorite holiday traditions is Vánoce, which is the version of Christmas celebrated in The Czech Republic (yes I know it’s officially called Czechia now but that’s a dumb name, so I call it the Czech Republic), Slovakia, and other parts of Eastern Europe.

It’s very different than American Christmas, and has a lot of different traditions. One major difference is that it’s celebrated on the 24th, and the presents are opened at the end of the day, after a family dinner. The dinner is typically held later in the evening, and once everyone is done (including the conversation) a bell is rung, supposedly by Ježíšek (the name for baby Jesus, despite the Czech Republic is one of the most atheist nations in the world) then the head figure of the household (typically the father and/or grandfather) will go in to “help” Ježíšek unload the presents. In some families, Ježíšek also brings the tree.

Another big distinction is of folklore. In America, bad kids supposedly get coal. In the Czech Republic, bad kids get taken by čerti (demons) to Peklo (kinda like hell) and tortured. Many schools and towns act this out on young kids, having older students dressing as demons to scare kids. Interesting side note: Vanoce is not considered a religious holiday in the Czech Republic, and most people who celebrate are atheist, despite clear references to religion. Krampus is also a common mythical creature who supposedly beats bad kids with sticks, although he’s not as common in Czech traditions as he is in Russia and Ukraine.

Some other weird superstitions include a golden pig. It is said that if you don’t eat meat, behave well, and are well dressed for all of Vanoce, a flying golden pig will come and grant you a wish. Another weird part of Vanoce is keeping a live fish in the bathtub. Although this tradition is not as common nowadays, a good amount of families still keep a Carp in their bathtub in the weeks before Vanoce.

Also, Večerníček is commonly watched by Czech families on Vanoce. Večerníček is a nightly program that has been running in the Czech Republic and Slovakia at 6:45 pm every night since 1965. There is always a Vanoce special, and this is not really about Vanoce, but because Večerníček is simply part of the Czech culture at this point.