Here ye, Here ye! It is finally Christmas Eve! Today around the globe millions of people are in their kitchens preparing for family feasts, cleaning their homes from top to bottom or purchasing last minute gifts. Whilst we wait to gather with our loved ones (responsibly social distancing of course), Just Focus takes you to our latest stop in our series: Slovakia!
Slovak Christmas Myths:
Due to Slovakia’s Catholic roots, the Advent period leading up to Christmas is very important to the people. it is an important time of preparation. During this time, multiple magical beings bring gifts to Slovakian children during the Vianoce (Christmas) period.
Firstly, the Slovaks celebrate St Nicholas Day on the 6th of December. St Nicholas or Svätý Mikuláš, is considered by the cultures who celebrate him as a giving saint. On the evening of the 5th, children will polish their boots or shoes and place them by the window. Legend says that during the evening, Svätý Mikuláš will go from house to house accompanied by an angel and a devil to give children candied treats if they were good all year. However, if children misbehaved, they will receive coal and onions in their shoes.
Another benevolent and generous magical being who brings gifts to children is Ježíško (baby Jesus). Very much like in Venezuela, Slovakia receives gifts from Ježíško on Stedry Vecer (Generous Evening-Christmas Eve). Excited children have to leave the room as parents will sneak presents under the Christmas tree. Once done, a bell is rung to signal to the children to return. They come rushing in to try and see the baby Jesus, but of course, just miss him! Some families will perform this ritual before the Christmas Eve dinner whilst some will do it after.
As mentioned previously, the advent period of December is an important time for Slovaks to prepare for Christmas. Different regions of Slovakia will have their own variation on Christmas Eve traditions. Some will clean their whole house and windows for example.
One of the many traditions includes purchasing a Carp two weeks before Christmas and caring for it in a tub until Stedry den (Generous Day-December 24th). In Christian culture, fish have an important symbolic meaning. During the historical period when Christians were being persecuted, fish symbols were used by Christians to recognize one another and to represent their faith in Christ. Furthermore, Jesus fed his followers bread and fish, therefore it is considered a fasting food. During the Advent period, it is not uncommon for Slovak families to observe fasting. Some Slovaks fast all day and then going to Midnight Mass on Stedry Vecer.
Angelika (27), recalls the tradition fondly, » When I was a kid, this it was a special moment with my dad. We would go to the store, get a carp, and raise it in the tub. Though the problem in Slovakia is that there are no rules regarding the slaughter of fish. »
Once the fish is slaughtered, some families will collect the scales and dry them. They will then either put them under chairs or put some in wallets all year to attract wealth.
Like in Norway, old movies are played including Three gifts for Cinderella or Soviet Union film Mrazík (Jack Frost).
Like in many European countries, food is an important component of Slovak culture. Slovaks are known for their sweet tooth and during the Vianoce period, houses will be full of christmas cookies. Gingerbreads, honeycakes, egg cakes, Opity Vizidor, the list is endless. If you love cookies, this tradition is perfect for you! Slovak families can make up to 10 different kinds during the christmas season and guests are certain they will be well recieved, should they drop in for a visit.
During Stedry den, families will get together to prepare the food for the evening feast. The Slovak Christmas dinner is known as Velija. Full of many different dishes, the meal will always start with a special wafer called Oplatky. The carp that was killed and prepared that morning is presented and there is also a soup called Kapustnica. Kapustnica is a thick creamy soup made of meats, sausage and mushrooms. Though, many families will have their own variant. Other dishes include potato salads, fish soup with roe or cabbage soup, and layered pancakes with honey and garlic. Typical desserts that will grace the table are bobáľky: a dumpling made from poppyseeds and of course cookies!
If you have a sweet tooth, Slovakia is the place to go! Enjoy munching their special christmas biscuits and drinking their delicious honeywine. Get yourself a carp and cook yourself a feast whilst watching old movies!