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Christmas 2017 and 2018

In Slovakia, the Christmas season begins with Advent, reflecting the fact that the population is largely Roman Catholic. This is the time to “prepare” for Christmas both spiritually and physically, by attending special church services and by shopping for a Christmas tree, baking Christmas cookies, and giving the house a thorough cleaning.

201724 DecSunChristmas Eve
25 DecMonChristmas Day
26 DecTue2nd Day of Christmas
201824 DecMonChristmas Eve
25 DecTueChristmas Day
26 DecWed2nd Day of Christmas

On December fifth, the Eve of Saint Nicholas’ Day, Santa shows up “early” to give out presents to children, who leave their shoes by the door to receive the gifts, instead of their socks by the fireplace. Normally, Saint Nicholas brings candies and fruits.

As Christmas draws nearer, large tanks filled with carp will appear along public streets. Here is where Slovakians shop for their “Christmas carp,” which often occupies the bathtub until his time comes on Christmas Eve. In the meantime, people just move the carp to a bucket in order to take a bath and then put him back in his place afterward.

Slovakians decorate Christmas trees as in most other places where Christmas is celebrated, but they usually use fruits, angel-shaped baked goods, candies and other sweets, and homemade wooden ornaments, besides the usual coloured lights. The tree will not be taken down until Epiphany on January 6th, at which time many of the ornaments are eaten as snacks.

Interestingly, Baby Jesus brings the presents on Christmas Eve evening, instead of Santa, who has already done his duties nearly three weeks ago. When children hear a ringing bell, they know that the presents have arrived under the tree an rush over to open them. Traditionally, presents are opened right after Christmas Eve dinner, but some these days have started opening them before dinner instead.

The traditional Christmas dinner has twelve different dishes, one for each of Jesus’ twelve disciples. The tablecloth is supposed to be white, and straw and wheat-sheaves are used to decorate it. Carp is the main dish, but other fish, cabbage soup, baked ham, roast goose, potato salad, dumplings, bread and butter topped with sauerkraut, and walnut rolls are also commonly consumed.

After dinner on Christmas Eve, many go to midnight mass, making it the busiest day of the year for Slovakian churches. While there, they peruse the nativity cribs, called “Bethlehems,” that are put up in virtually every church this time of year. They also, of course, hear Christmas-themed sermons, sing hymns about Jesus’ birth, and remember the true meaning of the holiday.

Both Christmas Day and the following day, Boxing Day, are low-key in Slovakia. They are a time to rest and recoup after a long and busy Christmas Eve.

Those touring the land of Slovakia at Christmas time will find there is much to do and much to learn about Slovakian culture. Here are some ideas on activities to take part in:

  • See the Christmas Market in Bratislava, the capital city, throughout November and December. You can see the carp swimming in vats in the streets, taste ready-made foods like Slovakian cabbage soup, barbecued meats, and potato pancakes, and shop the many street stalls. You will find crafts of wood, glass, clay, cloth, and corn husks, along with other souvenirs, in the Old Town Hall courtyard. Also look for carolling and performances at the Bratislava Christmas Market as the Christmas draws near.
  • Watch fairy tales on TV, like many other Slovakians do this time of year. “Three Nuts for Cinderella” is a classic, but there are many others, many of them much beloved for half a century now.
  • Buy some delicious Slovakian Christmas cookies or, if you wish, “beg” for some along with the door-to-door carollers, who receive cakes and cookies for their efforts. Vanilla cookies with walnuts and poppy seeds mixed in, apricot cookies, and extra-thin waffles covered in honey are three Yuletide favourites.

Slovakians keep Christmas with great fervour and for over a month, though only certain days receive the most attention. The tourist will find there is much activity and many traditions very different from Western countries during a Slovakian Christmas.