Ah, time for a cup of coffee, rest and a break from one of my family christmas traditions. What tradition is that, do you ask? Well why don’t you make a cuppa for yourselves, have a guess and read on to find out.
I love Christmas. It’s not just the presents, the food, the music, the getting together or the tree. It’s all the traditions. It’s the fact that through my childhood every christmas was the same as the one before and the one after. It was comfortably familiar, predictable, a constant.
And it’s very important to me that my children experience the same. Well of course, easy you might say. Well, my childhood christmas celebrations were very different to those in the UK. And to be fair to my children and my parents I want my children to experience both traditions. One year here and one year in Prague. So their first tradition is that Christmas is different every two years.
I grew up in Prague in what used to be Czechoslovakia. Our traditions were different from those observed in the UK. We have a tree , card and presents, we have nativities and beautiful christmas carols and we meet with family and friends. But the main event is on Christmas Eve. We get presents in the evening after festive dinner which includes fish. Mainly carp. Several days before christmas large plastic barrels suddenly appear all around the country stocked up with carp. Still alive and kicking, especially when taken out of the water and put on scales. I always wondered how many kilos did that add to the weight! Just in case anybody would like to copy this tradition, be warned, carp is a very muddy fish and needs to spend several weeks in a pond of clean water otherwise your dinner will be ruined. One could ask the seller to prepare the fish or take it home alive. Yes, alive. We used to put ours in a bath for a day or two before my father ‘prepared’ it on Christmas Eve. Yes in the bath! How is that for fresh produce?!
Which brings us nicely to my family traditions. Each Christmas Eve we stayed with my father’s parents. We got up in the morning, decorated the tree, which my grandfather got in his forest the day before (there is no tradition as to when the tree needs to be taken down and my grandfather used to keep ours till February.) Then lots of cooking for the evening, but only pea soup and apple strudel for lunch, no meat was allowed during the day. The true tradition was no food at all, and those who abstained were promised to see a gold pig in the evening (well, who wouldn’t after rushing around, not eating and then stuffing your face in the evening). We would decorate the house, sweet smelling homemade biscuits, tree branches with baubles and red ribbons everywhere. Then my grandfather would take me out for a walk or ice skating on the local pond so my parents could sneak presents under the tree (see we don’t get visit from Santa, but from Baby Jesus who brings all the presents). At 4 o’clock we went to visit my other grandmother and my cousins so our parents could secretly exchange presents and put them secretly under the tree and at 6 o’clock we had to be back for dinner. We would get changed for dinner and when we were nearly finished, my granddad (I mean Baby Jesus) would walk round the house and ring a little bell to mean Baby Jesus has visited and presents are ready. We would go upstairs and in my grandparents bedroom would be the most gorgeous tree with lots of presents, real candles and sparklers.
But first we had our dinner. Well the first three courses. First was ham rolls, ham with cream and horseradish (lush), second was pea soup and croutons (lovely), third was a mushroom thing (yuck). See I don’t eat mushrooms. We used to go and pick them in a forest and even though my parents new their fungi, I believed that if I had one it would be the poisonous one. Still don’t eat them today. So I was allowed to skip that course. Now, can you imagine a little girl desperate to open her presents and adults wanting to eat this delicious meal that was only served once a year. Can you see the problem here? Yes, my parents were very patient with me. Once all plates were taken, there were money, fish scales and a piece of paper under the plate. Money according to if you had been good, fish scales for good fortune for the next year and the piece of paper was a ticket for our presents. My parents had a great idea, before I could read, rather then writing names on presents they put tags in different colours and shapes. These were put under the plate and so if my grandmother had a green circle I knew that any present I found with green circle I should give to my grandmother, etc. I loved finding presents and making sure that everybody had something to open. Half way through opening presents all the adults disappeared. My grandfather went to check on the chickens (have a smoke), my father went to check the log burner (no smoke here) and my mum and grandmother went in the kitchen to finish off the star of the evening, the carp. Once all presents were opened, we had our carp in breadcrumbs and potato salad. Rather wise, carp has lots of bones and patience is required. After that it was bed. In the morning we played with presents, read books, went skiing and my other grandmother came to visit for lunch of goose.
So all this and you are still no wiser as to what tradition I’m taking break from. Well there are couple of traditions before the day. One is lovely. Making christmas biscuits. Lots and lots of pieces, some little bit like yummy dodgers, some with chocolate, vanilla and nuts. It made the whole house smell lovely. The second one is not so much fun and for years I have refused to ‘observe’ it, because it used to make my mother really stressed. And it took me long time to appreciate the reason behind it and to believe in it. The whole house was spring cleaned. Old things thrown away, space made for new stuff, dust and cobwebs banished. It’s lots of work and not much time for it, but it is part of Christmas now and makes me relax and get in the mood as much as making biscuits, cake or pudding. And it saves lots of embarrassment when the mother in law decides to rearrange the furniture to be able to see the tv better when the queen’s speech is on.
So there, now you know. Anybody guessed right? What are your favourite and least favourite Christmas traditions? Whatever you like to do, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
I’m going back to my cleaning.