24 December 2013

Awaiting Ježišek

The potato salad sits in big pots, the presents are wrapped and the dialogue from a televised Czech fairy tale is making its way trough the apartment. This is Christmas in the Czech Republic, and here, the big day is today the 24th, and not tomorrow.

In most homes throughout the country families are getting ready to eat carp, which has been sold in large tubs throughout the city over the past week. In the old days, families gave the carp a name and let it swim in their bathtub before deciding to chop its head off or letting it back into the river. Luckily, the Special Assistant to the Blogger recognizes that some traditions aren't worth keeping, one of them eating fatty fish, so we'll be having salmon, chicken schnitzel and potato salad for dinner.

After that, presents are opened. And here's the biggest paradox of them all: In the Czech Republic, the most atheist country in Europe, presents are brought by Ježišek, or Baby Jesus. As one student put it earlier this month: "We believe in Baby Jesus, we just don't believe in his father." There is no catch-all depiction of Ježišek -- in fact, the Special Assistant often pictured him as a little hedgehog with boots when she was little.

So that's how it goes here. Wherever you are, and however you celebrate it, have a wonderful Christmas. And don't do this.

23 December 2013

CSI: Prague

And by "CSI" I mean ...

  • Christmastime
  • Sepia
  • ISO 800
Just an experiment when I was out and about with the Special Assistant to the Blogger last night.

Kozí, a street in Old Town.
Obecní dům, or Municipal House. If the balcony looks familiar
but you're unsure why, type "INXS New Sensation" in your
favorite video sharing site. 
Old Town Square.
Old Town Hall overlooking the Christmas Market.

20 December 2013

Bloom or die

So, our tree is up.

No, not that one.

OK, technically yes, this one, but that's not the one I'm talking about.

Yep, this is the one -- although, if one must be pedantic, it is not a tree but rather branches from a special bush that Czechs call "Barborka," because its branches are clipped on December 4, which is the day for St. Barbara. These particular branches came courtesy of one of our school's groundskeepers, who was kind enough to trim a bunch of them and offer them to the Special Assistant to the Blogger and other women at the school.

The Barborka is another of the great Christmas traditions of the Czech Republic, which generally follow this pattern: If the desired result happens, you will have a wonderful year, and if not, you will die. In this case, the buds of the Barborka must bloom by Christmas.

According to the old tradition, you count the number of days after December 4 in which the buds blossom, and that's the month when you'll be happy. Now, these buds blossomed two days ago, which places our happiness roughly in February 2015. Tradition also dictates that if the blossoming occurs, the woman of the house will get married. Additionally, the woman of the house can name the branches after men she likes, and the branch that blossoms first represents the man she'll marry. That might explain why I overheard the Special Assistant name every branch "Jaromir Jagr."