In Slovakia, Christmas celebrations begin with Advent. Many Slovaks are Roman Catholics, so this is the beginning of the important spiritual preparations for Christmas.
The Slovaks also celebrate Saint Nicholas Day on December 6th. In Slovakia it is known as Svätý Mikuláš. The afternoon of December 5 arrives and gives gifts to good children. Young children place their shoes near the door so that Svätý Mikuláš can fill them with sweets and fruits.
During Advent there are many preparations for Christmas. This includes cleaning the house, baking, buying and buying the Christmas tree. Tents are also sold in the streets from large tanks (the tent is eaten in the main Christmas meal).
Christmas Eve is the most important day during Christmas for Slovaks. It’s called ‘Stedry den’ (the generous day). The real afternoon is called ‘Stedry vecer’ (the generous evening) and the Christmas season is called ‘Vianoce’.
In Slovak Happy / Merry Christmas is ‘Veselé Vianoce’.
Slovak Christmas trees are decorated with colored lights, fruits, handmade decorations made of wood, baked goods made with honey in the shape of angels and other religious and sweet symbols. The Christmas trees are kept until January 6, the Feast of the Three Kings (Epiphany). Then the children are allowed to finally eat the sweets and other sweets from the tree.
Christmas gifts are brought to children by the Ježíško (Baby Jesus). Family gifts are placed under the Christmas tree. A common tradition is that children have to leave the room when Jesus brings the gifts. When they are there a bell rings. Then, the children run to the Christmas tree to try to see the Baby Jesus, but they always miss him for a bit! Then the present opens. Most people open their gifts after the main Christmas meal, although some open them before eating!
On the morning of Christmas Eve, the carp is killed and destroyed (or some other type of fish is taken out of the freezer!). During the day dinner is cooked. It used to be the custom of fasting (eating nothing) throughout Christmas Eve. This was an address given by the Catholic Church. It was said that if he manages to survive without eating all day long, he will see a golden pig at night (after midnight mass service).
The main Christmas meal is known as the ‘velija’ and consists of 12 plates (the number of plates symbolizes the number of disciples of Jesus). The table is prepared with a white tablecloth with straw and sheaves of wheat at each end.
The Christmas dinner begins with the small Oplatky bread cookies and a blessing.
The main Christmas dinner varies by region and family. It usually has many courses that include a fish dish and ‘Kapustnica’. Kapustnica is a thick soup of cabbage with sausage, meat, dried mushrooms and cream. Each family has its own recipe. Some recipes include ingredients that may seem unusual, such as dried plums and apples.
Carp is often the fish that is eaten. Some people buy it live and keep it in their bathroom until it’s time to kill it and cook it. And if you want a bath or a shower, you have to take it out of the bathroom and put it in a bucket!
Other dishes may include a cooked ham or a chicken goose, small pieces of bread ‘bobajky’ mixed with butter and sauerkrat or sweetened with honey and poppy seeds, potato salad, dumplings, vegetables and a lot of buns or nuts cookies .
The cookies are a dessert and a popular treat at Christmas. Some favorites include those of vanilla made with poppy seeds and nuts and apricot cookies. Sometimes people will make more than 10 different types of cookies. These are given to visitors at Christmas. There are also special thin waffles that are eaten with honey.
After dinner, people can visit the nearby family or neighbors and give small gifts. Then many people will go to a midnight mass service. This is the busiest church service of the year.
In Slovakia there are many regional variations of the Christmas Eve celebrations. Some are local folk customs and rituals, which go back many years. One tradition is to clean the house and the windows ready for Christmas.
Christmas day and boxing day (26) are much quieter and rest days. People can go to the service of the Holy Mass and visit their family on Christmas day. Families with children like to go to church and see ‘Bethlehems’ (scenes of cribs) that are displayed in almost every church. Some of them are mechanics!