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The traditional Czech Christmas meal consists of fried carp. Many families actually buy this fish alive and keep it in their bathtubs for days or weeks until it’s ready to be cooked. In recent years, a lot of families have changed the tradition to avoid animal cruelty – they still buy the carp but on Christmas Eve, they release it into a river rather than eating it. Potato salad and soups are also a big part of Christmas celebrations, which mainly happen on the night of the 24th.
On December 24th, local channels show fairy tales all day long and it’s a tradition for families to wake up on that day, turn the TV on and just leave it on in the background for the entire day. In many homes, the TV even stays on during dinner.
On Christmas Day you won’t find kids searching for Santa and his reindeer to deliver presents. Instead, presents are delivered by Baby Jesus and the delivery is usually announced by the ringing of a bell. It can happen at any time, but it’s often done while the kids are still at the table eating.
There’s no “official” image of what Baby Jesus looks like and no real explanation of how he actually delivers the gifts (there’s no magic sled involved). And while Baby Jesus doesn’t have a “naughty or nice” list, there’s another celebration earlier in December where you’re at risk of receiving coal if you’ve misbehaved. That happens on December 5th, when St. Nicholas, accompanied by an angel and the devil, takes to the streets. On that day, children can expect a visit from the three figures, where they’ll be either rewarded or punished for their behavior the previous year.
Common foods and items are used on Christmas Eve day to foretell your fortune for the coming year. For example, an old tradition says an unmarried girl should throw a shoe over her shoulder. If the shoe falls pointing towards a nearby door, marriage is on the cards for the coming year. Another way to foretell whether your coming year will be lucky or unlucky is to cut an apple in half. If the core has four pointy corners, bad luck is on its way to you; five corners indicate health and happiness.
Since Baby Jesus usually delivers gifts while you’re still eating dinner, part of the fun on the 24th is trying to keep the kids from leaving the table too soon! Once the gifts are delivered, everybody gathers around the Christmas tree to open presents. In most homes, Christmas Eve dinner means dressing up in your finest clothes.