Christmas in Slovakia : My First ever Christmas Celebration in Europe
This is a rather late post because I was so busy during the holiday period last year but still I want to share with you guys how I celebrated my first ever Christmas in Slovakia!
Last quarter of 2019, I decided to leave my home country and move to Europe and so far I have been enjoying it, especially my first ever Slovak Christmas celebration.
Celebrating Christmas in Slovakia entails a lot of traditions and I think my least favorite was eating raw garlic as an appetizer for Christmas Eve dinner.
Ohh boy, I swear did not like that spicy raw garlic inside my mouth but I had to chew it because, well, it’s tradition 😂
That is only one of the many traditions Slovaks have during this season and some are really interesting and so new to me, so let me go ahead and share them with you.
CHRISTMAS IN SLOVAKIA: When does it start?
You will feel the Christmas in Slovakia has started during the Advent; that is 4 Sundays before Christmas.
Surprisingly, just like the Philippines, the majority of Slovaks are Roman Catholic and many of the Slovak Christmas Traditions are attributed to their religion.
But as for me, I started feeling Christmassy here in Bratislava when Christmas Markets started.
Ohhh… I can still remember the warm Lokša filled with nuts and nutella! Yummy!
The Christmas Markets in Bratislava started in the middle of November this year and lasted until Christmas Eve.
Yea, you might be asking why they end the market on Christmas Eve? So no Christmas Market on 25th?
Yes folks, because people want to celebrate Christmas with their families too and not spend it in the cold street.
And I think, most Slovaks like to spend their Christmas at home with their families because I noticed that the majority of the stores and businesses closes starting 24th and only open on the 27th.
I wrote about the Christmas Markets I visited in Bratislava in a separate blog post so if you are visiting this year, be sure to check that out and see my recommendation of foods that you should try!
You can also watch my short video about the Christmas Markets in Bratislava.
19 days before Christmas, on December 6th, Slovaks celebrate something peculiar that I never heard before.
They celebrate the birthday of St. Nicholas, or Mikuláš as they call him.
And on that day was the first time I was introduced to Mikuláš.
I was surprised because when I woke up in the morning of Dec 6th, there were some sweets on my shoes.
It is a very fun tradition, especially for kids and a good chance for them to clean their shoes!
They do not expect gifts from Santa Claus but Mikuláš.
The night before the 6th, kids are expected to clean their shoes and place them near the door so that Mikuláš can fill it with sweets and treats.
But! It is not that easy.
If you were a good kid throughout the year then you get sweats.
But if you were naughty and bad you get coal and onion on your shoes! Not so fun for kiddos 😂
Another interesting tradition that Slovaks does in preparation for Christmas happens on December 13th when Slovaks celebrate St. Lucia Day.
In Slovak tradition, St. Lucia is the wicked witch and Slovaks believed that they could see witches on this day.
The most popular custom was the girls dressed up in white like Lucia and gather together and go from house to house to sweep the corners and get rid of the bad spirits.
Just watch this old classic movie that perfectly describes what it likes to celebrate this day.
DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS EVE, WHAT DO THEY DO?
Celebrating Christmas in Slovakia is also the time when Slovaks do general cleaning of their houses.
They also start buying presents for their loved ones. I guess that is the same everywhere in the world.
While Slovaks believed that advent is time for spiritual preparations for Christmas, they try to fast and tend to avoid other major celebrations such as weddings during those 4 weeks.
They also start baking Christmas Cookies.
My mother-in-law has the best skills in baking these Christmas Cookies while all I can do is eat them.
Meantime, my mother-in-law started preparing for Christmas dinner 3 days before.
She started baking different kinds of cookies and strudels and preparing the soups that will be served during the dinner.
And the whole house smells delightful!
Unlike in the Philippines where people usually start putting up their Christmas Trees at the start of “BER” months, as early as September.
In Slovakia, they start to build up their Christmas Trees and decorating it with different ornaments on the 23rd of December.
However, some busy moms put theirs a week before the Christmas day.
CHRISTMAS EVE OR ŠTEDRÝ DEŇ
Now comes the most anticipated day of the Whole Christmas Season in Slovakia.
On this day, Slovaks like to fast or if not, they do not eat so much food until dinner.
Not just because they are saving themselves for the feast later, but the traditional rumors says that if you manage to not eat until Christmas Eve dinner, you might see a golden pig in the evening.
Do not know about others if the golden pig is enough motivation to fast, but surely it is quite hard for me not to take a bite of the lovely cookies that my mother-in-law bake. And oh did I mention the smell of cabbage soup? Amazing!
Also on this day, father would usually kill and gut the carp he bought the day before in the market.
Daniel said that it has become their tradition when they were a kid to buy a live carp day before and put it in the bathtub and play with it.
And then in the morning, he gets his heartbroken, because his father will kill and gut him for dinner.
It’s a sad story I know.
Even for me, I would not like to see a live fish getting killed and then eat it, same goes for every animal there is.
Though, I know it does not make any difference that I did not see how they killed the fish.
The fact remains that one fish died because I had to eat it for dinner.
But nowadays, people prefer to buy it from the supermarket frozen and just have it defrost during dinner and ready for dinner.
I guess that is more convenient and they would feel less guilty about it 😂
WHAT TO EAT ON CHRISTMAS EVE DINNER?
The traditional Slovak Christmas dinner is quite simple compared to what Filipinos will usually have.
I thought they are rather small and there are less variety of food, well I guess because Filipinos just like to eat so much.
Also, the simple dinner can be attributed to the history of Slovaks that the people were generally poor so they would feast with Cabbage and potatoes which are their staples on the table.
Slovaks start their dinner with another tradition that I mentioned earlier.
We started the dinner by eating raw garlic paired with a very thin and crispy bread called Oplatky.
They break the Oplatky in half and spread some honey into it like a sandwich.
They believe that eating garlic will make them healthy during the whole year whilst the honey in the Oplatky will bring them abundance and goodness of everything.
Upon knowing those things, without hesitation, I chew my raw garlic and pretended that it was delicious enough because of the honey. But it was hella spicy for me 😂
KAPUSTNICA OR THE CABBAGE SOUP
Slovak Christmas Dinner starts with soup and usually they cabbage soup.
They cook it with some dried mushrooms, sausages, and meat (usual pork).
But in some regions, they may also put some unusual ingredients like dried plums or apples.
The soup is nice.
It tastes a little sour because of the cabbage and the sausages and meat just compliment the cabbage even more.
It was a surprising combination for me as I never had it before.
The main course for the traditional Slovak Christmas dinner is, of course, the carp that was killed in the morning by father 😂
It is seasoned and covered with flour and fried into perfection.
The outside is golden brown and crispy while the inside is perfectly soft and moist.
I think my Father-in-law has perfected this dish for years because when I tried it, I could not stop eating it.
The portion was big for me but I easily finished it because it was so good.
It is funny though how they keep on telling me to be careful eating the fish because it has a lot of small bones in it, and I told them I have eaten a lot of fish in the Philippines and I had the worst.
I can’t wait for them to try our very own Bangus or Milkfish in English. I bet they would not like it because of the thousand small bones in it 😂
POTATO SALAD IN MAYONNAISE
This one is rather familiar to me because the Philippines has something similar.
Although the most famous variation was not potato but macaroni salad.
This dish is quite simple.
It is just diced potatoes, carrots, green peas, pickles, and mayonnaise.
But among the dishes that were served, this one is my favorite.
It was probably because of the home-made pickled cucumber that my mother-in-law made.
Oh my gosh, it is so good I can finish a bottle just eating it like a snack!
After the sumptuous dinner, it is time for desserts.
This time, baked cookies were served alongside a variety of strudels and cakes.
My favorite cookies are called Medovníky.
They are honey cookies with mixed spices and decorated with different shapes and icing on top.
I love that they are not too sweet and have a very interesting taste probably because of the mix of spices added to it.
I also had fun decorating them.
It is usually done with kids during the day of Christmas Eve when mother finish baking it.
They decorate the cookies with a lot of different things like trees, hearts, stars and other stuff.
I thought it was a great bonding experience that everyone in the family can enjoy.
Another favorite of mine is the strudel filled with poppy seeds.
Ohh, they are marvelous and I am so lucky that my mother-in-law bake them so good. I almost finish a roll 😂
She told me I am a small girl who eats a lot. Not sure though if it was meant to be a compliment 😂
AFTER CHRISTMAS EVE DINNER?
So after dinner, the father will ring the bell to let the kids know that it is time to open the gifts.
It is a very cute tradition that got the little kid in me excited.
From the dinner table, we all head to the living area or where the Christmas Tree is and check out some of the gifts that has our name on it.
As kids, we grew up watching movies about Santa Claus putting gifts in our socks on the Christmas Trees or just leaving it under the tree and believing that he does.
But kiddos in Slovakia believe that their gifts are actually from Baby Jesus which something new and interesting for me and left me asking how can baby Jesus; a newborn baby, bring gifts and arrange it under the tree? 🤷🏽♀️
Anyway, it’s quite fun to just get yourself excited and tear those gift wrappers and throwing them in the air to open your gifts.
After opening the gifts, the family members start to find their seats or place in the living room and just spend the night watching some classic Slovak or Czech fairytale movies made during the communism period.
I particularly enjoy the movie Byl Jednou Jeden Král or “Once upon a time there was a king” in English.
Though I did not understand the language because it was in Czech but Daniel was quick to translate it for me while we were watching.
But honestly, even without the translation, I like the acting and the whole setting of the movie.
I found myself laughing a lot even though I did not understand any words from it and left myself repeating sooool’ over and over again because of a one funny scene 😂
On the 25th, we got up so late after watching a lot of old classic Czech movies (Slovakia and Czech Republic used to be one country; Czechoslovakia so I refer to the movies as Czechs).
We feast on the leftover food and sweets from last night and visit other family members and spend time just watching old movies and laughing it all out together.
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OTHER SLOVAKIA CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS
I already mentioned a couple of Slovak Christmas Traditions like eating garlic before the meal, buying live carp and ringing the bell to signal opening the gifts but I wanted to share more with you.
Slovaks would usually cut apples in half and check what form of the seeds they will have.
If the seeds form a star then lucky you, because that symbolizes good fortune, happiness and good health for you and your family.
However, if the seeds form a cross, it symbolizes bad luck, illness or even death in the family.
It’s interesting how you can predict if someone will die in a family during the Christmas season through apples!
Another tradition done during Christmas Eve is throwing nuts in the corner of the house.
It is said that it will bring and ensure the family abundance for the coming years.
MONEY UNDER THE TABLE CLOTH
So after throwing nuts in the house to ensure you get abundance throughout the year, of course, we want to multiply the blessings right?
So Slovaks would put money under the tablecloth because it is believed that it will multiply the wealth of the family.
Slovaks spare an empty plate on the table for some deceased families.
It is as if they are celebrating Christmas with them.
Apart from that, it can also mean mercy or benevolence for those who are in need.
So there you have it guys! That is how I celebrated my first ever Christmas in Slovakia.
I was glad to be able to experience it at least once in my life.
We do not know if we will be in Slovakia by next year, maybe we will move to another country so to be able to witness these traditions are just fascinating for me.
I hope you enjoy reading this post, and if you do do not forget to share it.
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What about you? How did you celebrate your Christmas this year?
I would love to hear them. Leave me a comment down below with your stories.
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