Whenever I try to explain Slovak Christmas traditions to my foreign friends, they seem baffled.
I can understand why.
Some of our traditions, the rituals we keep performing during Christmas, are a bit strange. To outsiders.
Yet, we keep holding onto them (even though many of us don’t know the meaning behind), because they are a part of our authentic Christmas experience.
Are they really so strange? See for yourself:
Christmas in Slovakia is celebrated on the Christmas Eve, which is on December 24th. Not 25th.
A fish can be found on every table during the Christmas dinner. Not turkey. Not any other meat. Fish.
Carp in particular.
The strange part about it?
Well, we buy them alive. Usually well ahead. And to maintain the best taste, we keep them alive until the last possible moment.
Where do we keep them?
In out bathtubs!
Yup, you’ve heard right. They are just swimming in our bathtubs, waiting to be killed. And eaten.
Before the Christmas feast (and it truly is a feast, consisting of as many as 9 courses!), there’s the fast. People fast during the Christmas day. Some altogether, but majority compromises and eats sporadically small bites of pastry.
The deal here is – you kinda need to be hungry during the whole day and then you stuff yourself so much so that you need to loosen your belt.
The table accessories and rituals
Our tables are cracking under the wight of things we put on them. And it’s not only food. There are many, many small items that cannot be missing. Like…
Money under the table cloth – to have a prosperous year ahead.
Walnuts on the table. These are then thrown into every corner of the house right after dinner to ensure abundance of food for the following year.
Garlic is also consumed. By everyone. It’s healthy. We like to serve it usually with honey (also very healthy) and a non-sweetened waffle.
A fish scale (from the aforementioned carp) would be placed into a wallet to assure plenty of money will be always at hand.
An apple cut in the middle – if the cut revealed a star-like shape, it meant happiness and health. A cross-like shape would mean illness and death. This one apple is then served to everyone at the table – this symbolizes the unity of the family.
An extra plate. This has actually 2 meanings: some people prepare it for an unexpected guest that might appear during the dinner. Others because it was believed that the spirits of people who passed away could also dine with the family.
The ‘nobody moves’ rule
Everything that is to be consumed or used during the dinner has to be within a reach. Simply because no one is allowed to leave the table. Even to get something real quick.
And no bathroom breaks either.
Oh, the fun part about this. If you were to leave the table before the dinner is over, it would mean illness or even death to someone in the family.
As you can tell by now, we are quite superstitious. At least during the holiday season.
The wait to it…
In many countries, unwrapping of presents happens in the morning, right after everyone wakes up. Not in Slovakia. The presents are placed under the tree and are to be opened only after the Christmas dinner is over.
That’s why many children (I was guilty of this too) cannot wait for the dinner to be over and whine during.
BTW: The presents are brought to us not by Santa Claus, but by Little Jesus. The meaning? Beats me.