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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When I Came To Spain, And I Saw People Partying ON CHRISTMAS EVE, I Thought To Myself…

Where I’m from, the only places open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are churches, movie theaters and Chinese restaurants. My upbringing in suburban New England has foolishly duped me into thinking this fact is a universal truth; that Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue must close as to not disrupt Kris Kringle on his circumterrestrial route and that there is simply nothing else to do on December 24th and 25th other than stay in, absorb your caloric intake for the week in mere hours, and watch a Christmas Story on TNT, of course.

Well, after spending the holidays in Spain I have come to realize that all of that is a big sham, a mountebankery, a flimflam if you will. And, Spaniards being Spaniards, Christmas Eve is one of the biggest party nights of the year, naturally.

I think this sentiment and my experience on Christmas Eve are best expressed in (butchered) holiday verse:

While listening to an assortment of Spanish club jamz, there arose such a clatter; I sprang to the balcón to see what was the matter.

 When, what to my wondering eyes should appear? A street full of Spaniards, like it was any other day of the year.

Translated from the tongue of “Holiday Cheer,” shortly after I finished a shockingly delicious, self-prepared dinner (yeah Betty Crocker, I see you) I peered outside of the apartment I was in only to discover everyone and their Santa-hat-wearing brother was out and about tossing back kalimotxo like it was a Thursday in October.

Apparently this was nothing to write home about for the rest of the folks I was with, but to me it was about the equivalent of rolling out of bed any given day and finding Pat Sajak in the kitchen making pancakes. It’s taking a normal, average day, then add something completely atypical and extraordinary to it – say Mr. Sajak flipping some ‘jacks like it ain’t no thang, or in this case, streets bustling with Spaniards at 4am. The latter is not an uncommon occurrence in the least, but oh yeah IT’S 4AM ON CHRISTMAS EVE, AREN’T YOU PEOPLE SUPPOSED TO BE DREAMING OF SUGARPLUM FAIRIES SOMEWHERE!?

The truly baffling notion to me was that it wasn’t just one street or one establishment, it was everywhere. Everywhere I went it was packed – packed with Santa Claus impostors and candy cane wielding folks all looking to have a good time holiday style. I think this shot says it all:

The big guy can have fun too, right?
The big guy can have fun too, right?

This picture has everything: Papa Noel, a crowd of people, and to top it off, a scantily clad dancer in the background. If that doesn’t scream Christmas, I don’t know what does.

However, after having some time to mull it over, the initial level of surprise in regards to this phenomenon has greatly diminished in my mind and has now reached the point to where it is almost infinitesimal. Everything about living, studying and merely existing in another country seems surreal, holidays being one the paradigms of this concept and Christmas being the icing on the Pat Sajak-made (pan)cake. Very few things here are exactly how they are in the States, so why should holidays be any different?

The danger of this situation comes when many foreigners often times feel robbed of their own, in this case American, traditions and values. However, I think a more appropriate phrasing is to not feel robbed of your traditions, rather added on to. There’s no need to get angry that people go out until the witching hour on Christmas, nor that most stores are closed during the seemingly vital business hours that are siesta, just take it as it is and go with it. And I may have missed out on Labor Day, Halloween and quite a bit of election coverage, but I did get a long weekend at the beginning of December, got to celebrate New Years two weeks early with 50,000 other students, and a day off from school in November for a continent-wide strike. I think I can live with that. Not to mention the day all North Americans can all agree on anything, let alone a pre-arranged day to peacefully vent political and social frustrations, is the day Chancellor Coombe does the robot at commencement.

So, while Christmas was certainly unconventional by my definitions, it’s all a part of this whacky, flimflam-filled, surreal experience called studying abroad. My advice would be to just enjoy it as much as you can, try to learn something and wave to Pat Sajak along the way.

— Quincy Snowdon, DUSA Blogger