Christmas is among the most important holidays, with history going back to pre-Christian times and solstice celebrations. The word ‘Christmas’ is derived from the German word Weihnachten which means ‘holy night’.

The Advent starts four weeks before the Christmas Eve and culminates with three ‘holy days’: 24–26 December. In the Czech Republic, the Christmas Eve (24 December) is the most tradition-rich holiday, when the hustle and bustle of preparations comes to a head and the Christmas Eve dinner is served.

On the other hand, the First Christmas Feast (25 December) has a much greater religious significance; Christians believe that Jesus Christ was born on this day. The day used to be such a major date that until the 16th century it was the date on which the new calendar year started. As the name suggests, it is a day for feasting. Traditional dishes are served: roast goose, duck or turkey with sauerkraut and dumplings.

St. Stephen’s Day (26 December) commemorates the first Christian martyr. On this day, the traditional St. Stephen’s carol was sung; this tradition is no longer maintained and only children’s ditties remain.

Christmas abounds in customs and traditions which are passed from generation to generation. Children pass their time waiting for Christmas presents with advent calendars, and the adults have their own way of preparing for the holidays: we make Christmas sweets, hang out the mistletoe, decorate the Christmas tree, build nativity scenes and buy presents. The time to Christmas is clocked by the Advent wreath, with more and more candles on it as we get nearer to Christmas.

Early evening on Christmas Eve (often after a day of fasting) the family sits down for a festive dinner. The traditional dish of fried pieces of carp and potato salad is served, or ‘kuba’ or other regional specialties. A fish scale is put under the plate for prosperity. Carols are sung after dinner, followed by the unwrapping of presents. Another of the many traditions and customs is often followed: casting of lead, throwing a shoe, boating with walnut shells or slicing of apples in half to tell fortune. 

Christmas Eve Dinner

Christmas Eve DinnerThe Christmas Eve Dinner is one of the highlights of Christmas. Our ancestors sat down at the festive table when the first star appeared on the sky and the fast ended. The tradition has it that there must always be an even number of diners at the table – to ensure that everybody meets up again next year.

Traditional Christmas dinner dishes were always different region by region, but there were always similarities. ‘Kuba’ of groats boiled with mushrooms formed the basis of the dinner, with porridge made of peas, millet or pearl barley, which symbolised abundance. Boiled and dried fruits served for sweets.

Carp appeared on the Christmas Eve table only in the 19th century; at that time it was typically made in sweet gingerbread sauce or pickled in aspic. Fried carp served with potato salad is a 20th century innovation which really only took off as Christmas dinner in the 1950s, when cooking became more practical. 

Christmas presents

Christmas presentsGifting at Christmas is a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. For several centuries, a Christmas present symbolised the strengthening of mutual relationships as people believed that they were giving a piece of themselves to the other. In the past, Christmas presents were modest, hand-made items infused with personal meaning. In Bohemia, the tradition has it that Christmas presents are put under the tree by Baby Jesus – so naturally, the children are in great anticipation of his arrival.

Floating boats

Floating little boats made of walnut shells is one of the old Czech Christmas traditions. Our forefathers thought Christmas Eve the most magical night of the year. They believed that on that night, the elements wield more power than at any other time.
Water, with its purifying and therapeutic powers, played the main part in looking into the future at Christmas time. The folk wisdom held the walnut as a symbol of power, wealth and success. The walnut shell is ideal for making a symbolic boat. The candle symbolises sacrifice – giving light to others while burning itself down.
The unity of symbols gave rise to the poetic custom of floating walnut shell boats, which is observed in many families until today. And what the coming year has in store for us is foretold from the course of the little boat carrying a lit candle. The tradition has many regional variants – the prophecy can relate to a relationship of love or family. Watch a video tutorial how to make walnut shell boats and find out how to interpret the prophecy here . 

Nativity scenes

Nativity scenesThe first mention of a Czech nativity scene dates back to 1560 and is from Prague. Nativity scenes with a just-born Jesus, Virgin Mary and Joseph used to be for a long time a preserve of churches.  They became to be seen among the common folk only with the arrival of Enlightenment. The biblical story of the birth of Jesus offered people many parallels with their own lot – poverty, fear for the future, but also love for one’s children and hope. 

Advent wreath

Advent wreathThe Advent wreath with four candles symbolises Christ’s cross and refers to his blessings sent in the four directions. For four weeks leading to the Christmas Eve, all four candles are lighted gradually, each having a specific meaning: the first represents hope and expectation, the second stands for love, the third is for joy and the fourth, when lighted, brings peace and serenity to the home

Decorating the Christmas tree

Decorating the Chrismas treeThe first Christmas tree was brought to these lands by the principal of the Estates Theatre in 1812 as a surprise for his friends. First, the wealthy families followed his example, but later the tree tradition took root also in rural villages. The tree was originally hung up with the tip facing downward and decorated with paper, straw, fruits and nuts. Glass decorations date back to the mid-19th century, when a poor harvest of apples and nuts threatened to leave many a Christmas tree bare. An ingenious glass-blower replaced apples with glass globes and thus founded a new Christmas tradition. 

The Light of Bethlehem is one of the more modern Christmas traditions; its purpose is to remind people of the original meaning of the holidays. It symbolises friendship, peace and serenity and restores the spiritual dimension of Christmas. The Light of Bethlehem (light ‘relayed’ from candle to candle all the way from Bethlehem, where the original torch is) is brought to all parts of our country by Scouts. Everybody can come with a candle and take the Light of Bethlehem home.

The tradition started in 1986 in Austria, from where it spread to many countries of the world. The Light of Bethlehem was originally conceived as part of a charity project in aid of children with disabilities, but it soon became the symbol of hope in the dark. It was first brought to the Czech Republic in 1989 and its popularity is still growing steadily.

The list of locations where the Light of Bethlehem can be found is here: www.betlemskesvetlo.cz

Christmas Surprise 2013

Dear Friends,

with joy and season’s greetings we sent you this year’s Christmas present – all you need to make and float your boat this Christmas – and we hope it has reached you and is now safely in your hands.

Also this year we leave some space for your creativity – to complete the present in your own unique way. The following section of the website will demonstrate how to make a boat and we also share a professional bartender’s recipe for the AMI Christmas Punch. For both you will need a glass bowl – to float your boat and to mix the drink. 

We know what future the boats tell

Our video tutorial will demonstrate all you need to do to make your own boats. When finished, carefully float them on water. Think the question you are looking to have answered. ‘What does the next year hold in store for me?’ is quite enough. The course of the boat will give you the answer (the key to interpreting the prophecy is below).

Prophecy – what does it mean when your boat…

  • ...sticks to the shore – no change in the year to come; you will stay put.

  • ...travels far – you will travel; your plans have a good chance of working out.

  • ...touches another boat as they float together – love and good interpersonal relationships are in store for you; the longer the boats float together, the stronger the relationship will be.

  • ...locks into a circle with others – you can look forward to a happy life together, respect, friendship and tolerance.

  • ...is encircled by other boats – you need protection and help.

  • ...spins in circles – you are indecisive, dilly-dallying.

  • ...is the last to go down or the candle takes a long time to burn down – you can look forward to a long and happy life.

  • ...first sticks to the shore, then travels across to the other side after some fumbling you will find the right track leading to your dreams becoming a reality.

  • ...sails ahead of the other boat you will be dominant in your relationship.

  • ...draws water but sails across you will achieve your plan, but only just.

  • ...sinks your own doing or coincidence, despite a good start, your endeavour will ultimately fail.

  • ...sinks another boat you want to achieve your plans at any cost.

  • ...joins another boat and the candle of the other boat goes out your behaviour will cause love to be lost or a rejection.

  • ...the candle goes out as you are asking the question you are insincere to yourself and others.

  • ...the candle goes out in the middle of the journey, before the boat reaches the other side the thing you asked about is something you really do not care much about.

We know how to make and float boats

AMI Christmas Punch Recipe

Mix a delicious drink in a glass bowl to our special recipe. The punch is great for entertaining a larger company – it adds a festive feel to the occasion.

How to

To make 5 portions of AMI Christmas Punch pour 0.5 l white wine,
8 centilitres of St-Germain, 8 centilitres of syrup, and add 3 crushed cloves,
1 cinnamon stick and a half vanilla pod cut open, into a glass bowl. Splash
10 drops of bitter and add several segments of orange and lemon peel.
Mix thoroughly and leave to macerate at least 2–3 hours (overnight preferably), for the flavours to mix. Afterwards pour 0.5 l boiling water, mix thoroughly and serve. We recommend warming up the glasses before serving, e.g. with some hot water. Garnish with a swirl of orange peel, cinnamon, walnut and raspberry.