Christmas in Prague – Cookies, Carps and Carbs
Christmas in Prague – Cookies, Carps and Carbs
To be honest with you, when I first came here, I did not expect to find any big differences between how Christmas is spent here and how it is celebrated back home in Germany. After all, we are neighbors. I was wrong.
It all starts off pretty similar to what I was used to. Advent is celebrated with lighting one candle every Sunday on the Advent wreath. There is a smell of Christmas cookies in the air wherever you go, with every family and bakery cultivating their own set of recipes and variations, from vanilla rolls to gingerbread cookies. And of course: Mulled wine becomes part of the daily diet.
Christmas market on Náměstí Míru
But a few days before December 24, something unusual starts happening. Little pools pop up on the streets as part of the preparations for a typical Christmas Eve in Prague.
The traditional Czech Christmas dinner
The pools are filled with living fish – carps to be specific. Alongside potato salad, carp is the traditional dish on a family’s dining table on Christmas Eve. And many like to buy them while they are still alive. They keep them in a bathtub for a few days to enjoy them as fresh as possible. My colleague Andrea was laughing when she told me the story about the one time her family tried to adhere to this tradition. “I was maybe 6 or 7 years old. We all felt so sorry for the carp and were watching him all the time. Nobody wanted him to be killed, but my poor father had to do it eventually.”
Why carps? It is a Christian tradition to have fish during the holidays. But then: Czech Republic is known to be one of the most atheist countries in Europe. And Andrea indeed has another explanation: “Carps are probably just cheap to get. And we have a lot of them around here”.
Any proof needed for what you’ve just learned? Just watch the scene from everyone’s favorite Christmas movie: Pelíšky.
The Entertainment Program
Pelíšky (“Cosy Dens”) is one of Czech cinema’s all time classics by famous director Jan Hřebejk. It’s a heartwarming coming-of-age story set in 60s Czechoslovakia, just before the violent ending of the Prague Spring by the invasion of the Warsaw Pact countries. The family is coming together for Christmas, fighting all the small domestic wars: differing political opinions, puberty, generation conflicts.
Czech fairytales like Sněhurka (Snow White) are also traditionally aired on TV on the 24th, and, as Andrea tells me, it is always tough to decide.
And of course, as probably in the rest of Europe (correct me if I’m wrong!): There are presents, officially delivered not by Santa but the “Ježíšek” – little Jesus. Families stock each other up with itchy socks, smelly perfumes and eccentrically shaped hats that nobody will ever wear. But most importantly, they spend time with each other. Christmas is all about spending time with your family and beloved ones.
If you are into an alternative kind of entertainment program, churches hold the Christmas mass at midnight. Just ask us at the reception for directions or check this list. An open-air Christmas mass will be held at 9 p.m. on Prague's Old Town Square.
What to do as a tourist?
So! It is certainly good to know about traditions and customs of the country you are visiting – but what is in there for you? Don’t worry about feeling lonely, we will surely take you in as a member of Sir Toby’s family during your visit and help you out with the best recommendations to make your stay in Prague as festive as possible.
Andrea demonstrating the best way to tackle the cold: mulled wine!
For a start, here is our list of must do’s when visiting us in Prague during Christmas time:
Visit Christmas markets – see our list for the best places to try the little cinnamon wonders “Trdelnik” and, of course, mulled wine. There are also guided tours, e.g. by Guidilo.
Go for walks to soak up the atmosphere! Let’s hope for snow, but even without: a stroll through Letna park with amazing city views is always great, especially after dark when the city light are all shiny. Crossing Charles Bridge early in the morning with the night’s snow still untouched is a priceless experience. But you will have to get up VERY early.
Join the festivities at Sir Toby’s! Help us decorating the Christmas tree and join for the traditional dinner in our cozy basement.
Visit one of Prague’s concert halls, theaters or churches for an advent concert. You can check Prague’s tourist information website for dates and venues.
Shop Czech souvenirs for your friends & family!
Go ice skating! It is still not sure if there will be a public ice skating rink in the Old Town this year, but we will keep you posted.
Book your stay with us for Xmas or New Year’s Eve!
Little cinammon wonders: Trdelnik
All pictures by Richard Hodonicky