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 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 On this day, the traditional St. Stephen’s carol was sung; this tradition is no longer maintained and only children’s ditties remain.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. 

Festive Dining in the Past Century and Today

Dinner on Christmas Eve has always been a festive occasion for the family, requiring plenty of preparation. The plenitude and generosity of the festive evening was reflected in the menu, which was made up of as many as nine courses. There was a starter consisting of a piece of bread or a baked pancake with honey, garlic or herbs, which were thought to have magical powers. The starter was followed by a lentil or pea soup, as it was believed legumes had the power to bring wealth to the household thanks to their ability to expand. The main course was baked barley with forest mushrooms called kuba - the traditional Christmas Eve carp was a privilege of the rich at that time. At the end, vánočka, a kind of sweet Christmas bread, and apple pie were served as a dessert.

Today, the Christmas Eve dinner usually includes fish soup, breaded carp with potato salad and the sweet Christmas bread and cookies. Over the last years, other fish such as salmon or tuna started to find its way to the plates as some people prefer the more intensive taste of this fish.

Christmas Eve Traditions

Several customs were traditionally observed during Christmas Eve dinner. As long as people were eating, nobody was allowed to get up and leave the table. According to tradition, the empty place could be taken by a soul returning to this world, and the person leaving the table would leave the family or even die within the next year. The lady of the house had to prepare everything for the festive table right on it or near it. As soon as the master of the house finished his meal and got up, everyone had to follow, regardless of whether or not they had finished their meals. It was important to keep the table set with the right number of plates. A place was set even for those who had died throughout the year, and at the same time, there always had to be an even number of plates, as it was believed odd numbers brought bad luck. As a result, it often happened that there was an extra place at the table for an unexpected guest.

Did you know that…

… According to an old tradition, alcohol was banned at the Christmas table, and originally, the Church also banned meat? 

People would get around this ban by organizing the feast a day ahead, that is on 23 December. Such dinner was called abundant in Moravia. Over time, people started to break this tradition and the “banned” food also found its way to the Christmas Eve menu.

AMI Christmas 2016

How to assemble your bird feeder

The Christmas present comes with several tooled feeder parts, brushes to varnish, a bottle with brown wood preserver, emery board for finishing and smoothing, a strip of asphalt roll roofing to protect the feeder from rain and snow, a string to hang the feeder, and nails. The assembly is very easy and you can then pick the best place to hang the feeder for small birds. At the onset and end of the winter, use it to supplement the birds’ natural diet; when the winter is in full swing, some birds may come to the feeder as their main source of food. Sunflower seeds, nuts and apples are most commonly served up; but you can also add stale white bread crumbs, oats, grated carrot or cottage cheese, small pieces of meat, millet, rapeseed or wheat.

Assembly instructions

Using the emery board, sand down all parts to a smooth finish and join them together. You will need a hammer and nails. Place the nails in the pre-drilled holes and make sure there are no overlaps. To join the three large parts, use the long nails with a small head. You can start with lightly hammering a nail into each pre-drilled hole, so that its tip protrudes from the board. Then put the parts together and hammer on the nail until it is fully in. It is recommended to have an assistant, and rest the bottom part against a hard surface. Now take the shorter nails and join the bottom side parts. You will notice that one of the pre-drilled holes in the triangle is bigger – it goes at the top and takes the large-headed nail, which should stick out by about 1cm. The feeder will then hang by the two nails. Now you can varnish the bird feeder – inside and outside. It is good to spread a newspaper, wear gloves and some old clothes you can spare. Pour the varnish from the bottle into a bowl or cup – not something you normally use to cook or eat out of – and use the brush to varnish all surfaces. After a few hours, you can add another coat of paint. When the paint is dry, attach the asphalt roll to the roof and the bird feeder is ready to be hung outside. Attach the string to the protruding big nails and hang the bird feeder from a tree, or string it through the holes at the bottom and attach to a branch, fence or your balcony railing.

Dear Friends,

As is already tradition, you have received a present from us which you can complete according to your own fantasy. This year we prepared components for you to build a bird feeder which we believe will find its place hanging on a tree, attached to a garden fence or railing of a balcony. In the next sections of this website you will find a video demonstration of the assembly of the bird feeder and photo instructions.

We strongly believe that the present reached you in good condition and that you will enjoy its assembling perhaps with your family.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

AMI Communications