Introduction to Czech Traditions
Written by Zuzana Klimova
The Czech Republic might seem small in size, however, it is huge in customs and traditions which are still observed. The country was founded early in the seventh century, which is reflected in some of the traditions bearing signs of pagan beliefs. Christianity brought by Cyril and Methodius in the ninth century changed the nature of many of them, but still, some of the most beautiful customs have survived. It is very important to realize that the specific way they carry out the festivities might differ regionally even the names for the exact things may be different.
Throughout the year there are several main festivals of the greatest importance.
In January on the day of THREE KINGS children dress up as the kings and walk around bringing blessings to houses.
It starts the period before ASH WEDNESDAY, which officially starts the period of PUST (Lent). They make the most of MASOPUST (Mardi Gras), which culminates with a great costume street party called KARNEVAL in Czech. On the day before Ash Wednesday, they stop all the fun and music by burying the bass – the symbol of singing, dancing and being merry as such. They give up meat or anything dear to them for forty days prior to Easter.
Between Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday starting the Holy Week, there is one typical Czech thing –on the fifth Sunday after Ash Wednesday, which is called SMRTNA (Deadly) Sunday, they create an effigy of winter called MORENA and by throwing it in the river they part with winter and say hello to spring.
They decorate their houses with spring symbols and look forward to Easter Monday, which has nothing to do with the Resurrection of Jesus at all. Boys braid their willow canes, the girls decorate them with colorful ribbons and go softly whipping girls. The girls welcome the boys with open arms and bear the whipping patiently as it is supposed to keep them fresh and young for the upcoming year. They even give the boys beautifully decorated eggs, chocolates, and plenty of alcohol.
Having survived Easter, they can look forward to the burning witches of on the 30th April which also demonstrates the end of winter.
They put up MAJKA (A Maypole – a tall evergreen pole ) the symbol of spring – and guard it with attention so that the neighboring villagers do not cut it down. The first of May will offer the opportunity to kiss or be kissed under the cherry tree to ensure a long life.
In the summer they can go HOUBY (mushrooms) picking or enjoy hunting as a MYSLIVEC ( hunter) .
They also celebrate DOZINKY (Slavic Harvest Festival), which is a great party to be thankful for all the crops they have after the harvest.
In the autumn they don´t only fly kites in the fields but they also commemorate the ones passed away on DUSICKY (Little souls) – a decent tradition and the annual pilgrimage to family gravesites to rekindle memories of loved ones now deceased.
In the early winter, they might organize a ZABIJACKA (pig butchering)– where the meat is cut in many ways. They enjoy JITRNICE and JELITA, which means white and black sausages. With their freezers packed with pork, they start buying presents for Christmas and on the fifth of December they let St. Nicolas and his company give them little treats only if one has been good. If you haven´t behaved yourself, a devil might put you in a sack and take you to the dreaded hell.
They decorate and deep-clean their houses to be perfectly ready for Christmas which wraps up the amazing year of traditions and festivals. They drink a lot alcohol on New Year´s Eve with great expectations for a new year to come.
There is also SVATEK (name day), which is a day they celebrate their first names. Some consider this as important as one´s birthday. They also have a list of the weather sayings – PRANOSTIKY – a piece of wisdom for each month – LEDEN BILY, POLE SILI – if January is white, the field will be fertile.
However, the country doesn’t only boast great traditions during festivals. There is also fantastic food, which differs from region to region. They do have some essentials in common, though. They eat KNEDLIKY (dumplings) on a daily basis with their meat and it is only a matter of their personal preference to have a HOUSKOVY KNEDLIK (bread dumpling) that is made with yeast and rolls or BRAMBOROVY KNEDLIK (potato dumpling), which is a healthier option made of cooked potatoes and flour. They eat BOCHANEK at Easter, which is a kind of sweet Easter Bread. Czechs love VANOCKA, which is very similar to BOCHANEK, but it is braided from sweet dough in four parts as the basis, three parts in the middle and one part at the top, decorated with raisins and almonds and a lot of icing sugar.
They also take pride in their PIVO beer and love their CHMEL ( hops), which they still pick manually. They also have a flair for making spirits, especially SLIVOVICE ( a strong plum brandy), which is made of plums and distilled accordingly. Last but not least they are excellent winemakers with wine-growing areas in South Moravia.
Besides the main festivals there are many fantastic crafts and arts traditions throughout the country differing region to region. They are proud of their PERNIK (gingerbread) in Pardubice – the center of East Bohemian Region, they excel at making glass in North Bohemian Region, they have become famous through SPEJBL and HURVINEK (very special puppets with a long tradition) in Pilsen – West Bohemian Region, TVARUZKY (a delicious cheese similar to Limburger) in Olomouc, which dominates the Central Moravian Region, they produce glass jewelry in Jablonec and Bohemian Paradise – both important parts of Northern Bohemia.
They can also enjoy the spa towns and drink the healthy spring water especially in Western Bohemia. Czech people also pay a lot of attention to their weddings and observe some of the folk traditions connected to the big day.
To sum it up, there is hardly a day of the calendar which would go without a party and there is not a region which would have nothing special to offer.