While many Czechs like to celebrate the universal Christmas traditions you know and love, there are a number of unique and unusual traditions that are also common in the Czech Republic – all the way from sticking a carp scale in your wallet to making walnut boats – that will either make you smile or leave you scratching your head in confusion.
Christmas Eve dinner in the Czech Republic
On Christmas Eve, Czechs sit down for the most festive dinner of the year. The traditional dinner consists of fish soup, carp with potato salad. However, some Czechs do not like the taste of carp and replace it with chicken schnitzel or another type of fish, such as salmon.
Christmas Eve dinner has its own rules. It only can start when everyone sits at the table, which should be set for one extra guest in case of an unexpected visit. Also, no one is allowed to leave the table until everyone finishes their meal.
The Czechs’ carp scale Christmas tradition
During Christmas Eve dinner, everyone should put a carp scale under their plate. The scale is believed to bring money and abundance. Afterward, the Christmas carp scale should be placed in a wallet to secure money for the next year.
Cutting an apple after dinner
After Christmas Eve dinner, each family member cuts an apple in half. If the apple core is star-shaped, Czechs believe they will be healthy and happy next year. Otherwise, they can expect illness or death. Yikes.
Czechs pour lead to divine the future
One Czech Christmas tradition that is no longer very widespread anymore, but still practiced, is heating lead and then pouring it as a liquid into water.
After the liquid metal solidifies in water, Czechs can supposedly divine the future from its shape. Some shops offer lead-pouring kits that include a hint of what the shapes may mean.
Releasing little boats made of walnut shells with a lighted candle inside is a popular Christmas tradition in the Czech Republic. It is thought that the little boats can even answer a question or predict the future.
The number of boats prepared during Christmas should correspond to the number of family members. If one of the boats moves away once released on the water, then the person who that boat belongs is supposed to leave the family in the following year. If the boats stay together, the family will too.
As you might be starting to notice, many of Czech Christmas traditions can make for some awkward or depressing moments depending on how they turn out.
Mistletoe is another widespread custom that is, of course, also common in other countries. A mistletoe branch can be used as a Christmas decoration, with many people choosing to kiss underneath it. A kiss under the mistletoe is supposed to bring love for the next year. Gifted mistletoe is believed to protect from illness and bring happiness to a household.
One of the Christian legends says that Joseph made a cradle for Jesus from wood taken from a tree that had mistletoe in it. Later, the cross on which Jesus was crucified was made of the same tree. The tree then dried up out of shame and crumbled into twigs of mistletoe. Now, the tree makes up for its guilt by bringing luck to people.
Although Czechs are said to be a nation of atheists, Christmas Eve is supposed to culminate in a midnight mass for most Czechs, and is attended by both non-believers and believers singing Christmas carols together.
Czechs love sweets. One of the most widespread Christmas traditions is baking cookies with family, with gingerbread, vanilla rolls, sponge biscuits, and no-bake wasp nests made of cocoa mixture and a liquor-filling among Czechs’ favorites.