Christmas Spirit, Baby Jesus, and…Potatoes?

I. Love. Christmas. SO. much. Baking cookies, making paper snowflakes, listening to Christmas music, the whole shebang. However, I worried that being 5,000 miles away from all my normal traditions would take some magic out of the holiday. Alas! This is not the case! Christmas time in the Czech Republic has been an absolute DREAM, and my Christmas spirits are soaring high. Here’s what I’ve learned about how Czechs celebrate this season:

First off, let’s talk about CHRISTMAS MARKETS! If I could bring one thing back from my trip, it would be this concept of Christmas markets. If you’ve ever been to a Christmas bazaar where local companies make goods and sell them, imagine that-but much grander! In nearly every city square you’ll see little wooden booths set up will small

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Christmas Booths sell Christmas Spirit by the Kilogram

companies selling soaps, ornaments, food, tea, you name it. While this may sound fairly similar to a Christmas bazaar, it’s the environment around these markets that make it so special. There’s Christmas music playing all the time, concerts and events in the larger squares, and people hopping booth-to-booth, testing out each different type of mulled wine. In my city, Brno, there’s even a special tram that’s covered in Christmas lights that can take you between each Christmas market! The atmosphere is hard to describe, but after visiting these markets I can confirm that the Christmas spirit may have been invented here.

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The Christmas Tram: AKA the Holly Trolly

Additionally, there’s something similar to a second Christmas that comes early- December 5th to be exact. This is known as St. Mikulas day, where a bishop, followed by an angel and a devil, judge how good a child has been. If the bishop deems the child “good,” then the angel may give them candy or nuts. However, if the child is bad, then they receive a potato or coal and then get taken away by the devil. A little dark for my taste, but I’m sure it provides great incentive for children to be on their best behavior.

Finally, the concept of Christmas is totally different here! Santa doesn’t deliver presents to the good children, but instead leaves that job to baby Jesus! On Christmas Eve, (after a dinner of fresh carp and potato salad) children are told to go into a separate room from the Christmas tree. Once they’ve left, baby Jesus places presents under the tree and then rings a little bell to signify completion. If you thought the logistics of Santa delivering presents to every child was difficult, try explaining how an infant does it!

Of course the holidays aren’t the same when I can’t bake cookies or decorate trees with my family, but learning how Brno, Czech Republic celebrates Christmas has been incredibly fascinating and just as festive-if not more!


Hannah Langford

CZECH REPUBLIC – MASARYK UNIVERSITY, 2018 FALL

Hannah Langford is taking a break from studying Integrated Sciences at DU to study history and culture at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. She’s looking forward to exploring the unique geography and outdoor opportunities in the area and the surrounding countries. She’s also looking  forward to eating a lot of chocolate.

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“The Experience”

Something I find fascinating about American culture is the need to have “The ___ Experience.” High school. College. Dating. First day/week/month/job/apartment. Study abroad. These Experiences™ are well-documented in books, movies, TV shows, social media, so most of us know what the life we’re “supposed to have” looks like, from Little League and princess dresses to a two-story house with a Golden Retriever. No matter how skeptical one might be, it’s very hard to be an American now and not have at least a fragment of The American Dream tucked away somewhere in the subconscious.

As an introvert, an HSP, a shy person, and a girl with curly hair and glasses, I don’t fit the American ideal. My little rebellious heart doesn’t want to fit the American ideal, it just wants me to be me. I’ve gone my own way (with varying degrees of success) as far back as I can remember, planting my flag in a mountain of books and declaring it my own. But aha – books are a very good, very sneaky (or not) way of talking about The Experience. And so, despite my efforts to turn off the path of the great superhighway of the American Dream, I often find myself on autopilot, merging back on.

And it never feels right when I merge back on. I’m like a mountain bike with a bunch of mud and rocks in my tires suddenly trying to keep up with a horde of sleek commuter bikes. I’m bumping along and I feel very out of place – which is good, because I am. I belong wandering around the mountains (very slowly) instead of zipping from place to place. Zipping around is great – I’m just not built for it.

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Analogies aside, I have my little being that loves walking slowly and soaking things in, and I grew up in fast, experiential culture. And that gets me here to the country I’ve wanted to visit since I learned that castles were real, but somewhere along the way my childhood dream and adult curiosity got muddled in with the idea that I am A College Student™ and I’ve got to have The Study Abroad Experience™.

What I would do here for me and what I would do for The Experience look very different. Briefly, for me I wanted to take some European-style lecture classes, wander around the countryside and the ruins and the old bits of town, and go to music things. What I felt a study abroad student should do here is madly finish classwork to clear up time, leap-frog around Europe every weekend, and join a bunch of adventurous clubs.

I found myself – surprise, surprise – alone in a café, writing and people watching, and realized I was vaguely dissatisfied. Why? I wanted to be doing something more. What? …something. Why? Because I’d compared my list of “experiences” with those of other students and my list was much, much shorter and much less dramatic.

Most days, I wake up early. I go to the gym or run along the River Kelvin, make a cup of tea, and go to my lectures. I’ll spend the afternoon studying, either in my flat, at a café, or in the GU Catholic Association building. Evenings, I go to theological talks or choir rehearsals. It’s a comfortable, calm routine, I like it, and it leaves room for the handful of jaunts I’ve done outside of Glasgow and my many forays into shops, museums, and parks.

My routine is not glamorous. And, unlike the rest of the international students, it seems, I have yet to venture outside of Scotland. I’m definitely not having The Experience. But, as I’m coming to realize, the normal study abroad experience is not for me. It never was, and I used to know that. Realizing it again felt like the sun was coming out (a big deal in gray, dreich Glasgow).

My realization also gave me permission to recognize the experience that I am having. By spending so much time on my own, I’m growing in self-knowledge and self-advocacy. By staying in Scotland, not only am I taking care of myself, I’m learning about the country in depth. By focusing on my studies and tours of museums and ruins, I’m gaining a rich, nuanced knowledge of the last two thousand years of European history with a focus on Glasgow’s West End. I’m having my own experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.


Alice Major

SCOTLAND – UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW, 2018 FALL

Alice Major is studying at the University of Glasgow in Glasgow, Scotland. She is a double major, focusing mostly on music and adding history because history is cool. Study abroad is Alice’s first time out of the country, and she hopes to come home in one piece and with a wicked Scottish accent.

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