Christmas in the Czech Republic during communism....

Discussion in 'Culture' started by ta, Dec 14, 2007.

  1. ta

    ta Well-Known Member


    wrote this story for my children (and their future children) for them to know how tough their mom had it when she was just a little child growing up in the Czech Republic during deep communism...

    Well, the first tangible sign of Christmas was our (the kids) letter to Jesus. Yes, that’s right, in the Czech Republic Jesus brings the presents while Santa is on vacation or something ( I also remember bragging to my fellow classmates at school when I was about 7 years old that I saw Jesus' feet just as he was flying out of our apartment window). Anyhow, when my brother and I were really little and didn't know how to write yet, we would draw out the list of things we wanted for Christmas. My list always looked something like this:
    1) dog
    2) cat
    3) Barbie

    And I would usually end up getting a bunch of clothes.

    Second, getting the Christmas tree. I don't remember much about that. The only thing I remember is how frustrated my parents would get trying to fit the stem into the tree stand. They kept trimming the stem down but somehow it never seemed to fit! But that is probably just a universal law....

    Third, getting the carp. (Speaking of carp, my husband loves this one. He says, "Honey, here in the U.S. carp is actually used as bait to catch real fish...") That event I remember quite vividly. Since I am a big animal lover, going out and buying a carp was a stressful day for me. I remember feeling sorry for those fish at the seller's stand, how stuffed they all were in this one tiny bucket with about 6 ounces of water in it.More... Once we picked the "lucky" one we took it home and put it in the bath tub. I kept going back into the bathroom, checking on that poor guy who was just helplessly swimming in there, not knowing what was about to happen. The big question of that time of year was who was actually going to kill the fish??? And honestly I repressed that experience out of my memory.Was it usually my mum? Or my dad? Or my grandma??? Maybe THAT'S what Santa did- killed the carp!!! I don't know...

    Forth. Getting the presents. The gift exchange in the Czech Republic happens on the Christmas Eve, which I prefer doing up to this day. It just feels right. So what happens is that “Jesus” arranges the presents under the tree while everyone is gone, waiting in their rooms until he rings a bell. Once that happens, it gets crazy. Kids run out of their rooms and feverishly start opening up their presents. Mind you, back in my days we would get about 3 presents each, none of this crazy 100 presents-per-person mania like it is in the US (and now probably in the Czech republic as well). After we unpacked our precious presents we had our traditional festive Christmas dinner: the Carp soup and a fried carp with a traditional potato salad (my mom makes the best one). And for a desert we had a variety of Christmas cookies.

    A lot of us “experienced Czechs” still remember the good old communist stores: Tuzex and Eso. They weren’t just some regular stores. They were the SUPER-SPECIAL stores. They were so special that they had their own currency called bony! Tuzex had toys/things from the 'evil' capitalist empire of Western Europe such as the true barbies or walkmans. The Eso store sold food items imported from the traitor’s land such as Wrigley’s chewing gums, peanut butter or Coca-Colas – great stuff!!!
    Anyhow, my grandma’s Christmas treat for us was to spend a big part of her retirement money and exchange them for bony in order to buy us each a can of Coca-Cola in Eso. So at the end of the already awesome Christmas Eve I would go to our fridge, opened it and there it was - a chilled can of Coke….I was in heaven!! Even to this day when I drink MY OWN CAN OF COKE (!!!) I feel like a queen... :wink:
  2. Petr_B

    Petr_B Well-Known Member

    Mmm, pretty much the only difference here is that we actually did the whole presents thing AFTER the dinner and I think it's the standard procedure, described e.g. also here. And the carp with potato salad had to be preceded by fish soup (prepared from the carp parts too). Of course carp's scales had to be placed under the plate, put into one's wallet after the dinner and kept there the whole next year to ensure the wallet won't be empty.
    What about fastening all Christmas day in order to see a golden piglet? ;) . Speaking about Christmas and food, home baked "vánočka" was a must.

    As children we also did floating of walnut shells, cutting the apple and even pouring of the lead. And I liked "prskavky" too.
    But we never cared about these superstitions.

    By the way, you could have bought "luxurious" food (and yes, back then it included things like imported chewing gum, Kinder surprise eggs etc.) in Tuzex too, there were at least two kinds of Tuzex stores, one for food and another for clothes, electronics etc.

    By the way, I just noticed that Lingea Lexicon (computer CZ<->EN dictionary) and (shares the vocabulary with Lingea Lexicon) - probably two most popular computer dictionaries here - translate "Ježíšek" wrong:
    How comes it's translated this way and not as "Baby Jesus"? :evil:
  3. eso

    eso Well-Known Member

    Great description, ta!

    But actually, present Czech Christmas are very similar to your depiction.

    Byt I believe that in Eso shops you could buy goods with korunas. "Bony" were only in Tuzex.
  4. eso

    eso Well-Known Member

    "Baby jesus" is literal translation, but I think, if you say to for example American "baby Jesus", than only concept he will get is religious one. If you say "Ježíšek" to Czech, I believe that majority will get picture of Christmas presents.

    So I guess it's right translation.
  5. Petr_B

    Petr_B Well-Known Member

    You paid with KČS (koruna československá) in Eso, but the stores were very expensive.

    ta, I wonder about "crazy 100 presents-per-person mania" - I recon you used 100 rather figuratively, right? I can't really imagine one person being given more than let's say a dozen of presents (from his/her family, like one present from a sibling, several from the parents/grandparents).
  6. Petr_B

    Petr_B Well-Known Member

    By "Ježíšek" I meant the person who is supposed to deliver the presents and whom you address in your letter asking for them. It's a child - neither Santa Claus nor Father Christmas, that's why it looks so weird to me. But it's probably just me. * shrugs *
  7. eso

    eso Well-Known Member

    Well it's open for discussion isn't it?

    For example, i believe, that Jezisek is invisible.
    SO, how do you know he's child?! ;) ;)
  8. Polednikova

    Polednikova Well-Known Member

    Fascinating. Because of my Czech father, we had our Christmas on Christmas Eve in the UK although we did still have Father Christmas. He obviously couldn't get carp so we used to have řizky with potato salad instead - at least it looked a bit like fried carp!

    At my Czech class, we've just had our Christmas film night. We watched Pelíšky, a wonderful film, which as well as being an interesting and amusing account of life under communism, also shows the classic international Christmas tradition of families falling out!
  9. Sova

    Sova Well-Known Member

    So is that where eso gets his screen name? :wink:

    Peanut butter!? Really? I had a terrible time trying to find that even in the mid-90's (and when I did, it was often in the refrigerated section :) ) !
  10. eso

    eso Well-Known Member

    No, no, they tried to take it from me, but we fought and where are Eso shops now?! ;) ;)
  11. Sova

    Sova Well-Known Member

    Stick it to the man! :lol:
  12. dzurisova

    dzurisova Well-Known Member

    Great story ta, thanks for sharing.
  13. ta

    ta Well-Known Member

    Hi all,

    I have to apologize, I guess you could buy stuff in Eso with the domestic currency...'
    Also, the expression "100 presents-per-person mania" does not mean exactly 100 presents; I was just trying to make a point (in a joking kind of way) that Americans get a lot of presents...Anyhow, I hope that some of you got the joke.
  14. Yerusalyim

    Yerusalyim Well-Known Member

    THE CARP, I had my first experience with that this past Christmas. My then Fiancee and I brought the carp home, it had already been gutted and she thought it was dead. She soaked it in the sink for several hours...when she went to cut it up it started thrashing wildly...fishy water all over her and the kitchen....she was hilarious.

    The soup was the best I've ever had. I'm not a big fish guy, but that soup was absolutely superb. The fried fish and potato salad was also most excellent.

    What I'm learning of Czech culture from my wife I like...mostly.

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