Contributor: Jana Parizkova
For centuries in Czech countries old traditions and meals existed at Christmas, which have survived all political, social and cultural changes until the present. These remained even when the region was temporarily included in the Austrian Hungarian Empire, then as Czechoslovakia, and now as the Czech Republic.
Preparations for Christmas meals start with fishing Czech carps from our ponds which were established five centuries ago. Preparations continue with selling Christmas trees in the streets days before the holiday period. Celebrating Christmas starts on December 24th and the old customs included fasting during day. For children this was in order to see the "golden piglet" at the end of the day. The Christmas Eve menu starts with carp meat and carp roe in a soup with vegetables, then carp again as a main meal, fried in breadcrumbs with potato salad, or carp with black gravy and dumplings. Various sorts of little Christmas sweets follow, and also a special Christmas cake (vanocka**), prepared only for this occasion, follow; these have been prepared way in advance.
Meanwhile, the Christmas tree is in a separate room, decorated with special Christmas ornaments, candles and crackers. Under it the packed gifts are waiting for all participants. The tradition, even today, has been to go to midnight mass, when often the Christmas mass composition of our famous composer Jan Jakub Ryba (1785- 1815) is played, and this is always presented also on television.
Both the 25th and the 26th December are holidays, when most commonly roast goose, duck or turkey is served with dumplings (whether made from flour or from potatoes) as the main meal, followed by different sorts of special little Christmas sweets and cakes, which had been prepared long before. Also, Christmas fruit, nuts, almonds etc. are served as next part of the main meal. The special Christmas cake, vanocka, may also be served again if there is still any appetite.
Family members and close friends and neighbours will come together for the occasion and enjoy their Christmas meals together. Christmas holidays are both a time for love, affection and faith (though this has been reducing), and also for excellent meals, quite special for this holiday.
* (c)Copyright 2008 Jana Parizkova, Helen Macbeth. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute copies of this Introduction to recipes for Czech Republic solely for the purposes of non-profit domestic use or non-profit educational purposes in either case provided that copies are distributed at or below cost and that the author's source and copyright notice are included on each copy.
** this special cake - vanocka - is prepared from a sweet dough (flour, eggs, sugar, milk), and is made up with layers of the plaits of this dough - from eight-ten at the bottom, then covered with a plait of six, then with four, then two plaits, giving a sort of a long pyramid. It is prepared only for the Christmas holidays.