It's Christmas Time in (and out of) the City

Authored by:
Deanna K.

Deanna K.

Similar to the United States, it's been "Christmas Time" in the Czech Republic for the last month and a half now. True, there's not the same level of craziness as you come by in the States- houses aren't decorated roof-to-basement in lights and there's not as big of a "shop till you drop" atmosphere here. However, signs of the approaching holiday comes out earlier in the Czech Republic as there's no "roadblock" (aka- Thanksgiving) keeping the Christmas spirit at bay until mid/end of November.

No complaints here though. As someone who relishes the holidays, I've enjoyed the decorated malls and shops, Czech hot chocolate, and the Christmas tree stand that has popped up across the street from my flat.

Czech hot chocolate is a delicious and dangerous concoction- with more chocolate than liquid, it's like drinking chocolate fondue. Again, no complaints.

But lets rewind back to the start of the holiday season (for Americans, anyway). Obviously, Thanksgiving is not celebrated in the Czech Republic. (Interestingly enough, Black Friday is...). Rather than ignoring Thanksgiving, though, I took this as an opportunity to discuss America's history of Thanksgiving and current traditions with my students. And of course, introduce food-related vocabulary. I had my students 'research' foods typically eaten on Thanksgiving and create their own "Thanksgiving Menus." It was funny to answer questions about stuffing and pumpkin soup.

Note for future lesson planning- talking about food is always a good idea.

After teaching about Thanksgiving all week, I was properly hungry for a Thanksgiving feast. Fortunately for me, I was blessed with 2 Thanksgiving dinners- a vegan one with my friends on Thursday night and a traditional Thanksgiving one thrown by our CIEE coordinators that Friday.

CIEE Staff and Teachers

The following Saturday (December 1st), a few of my CIEE friends and I got together to go to the Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Old Town Square. A Christmas market place had been constructed in the square and vendors were selling drinks, snacks and crafts. The place was a little too packed for my liking, but with hot apple cider and mulled wine in hand, we endured. And, of  course, it was worth it once the Christmas tree was lit.

Another thing that has popped up all around Prague are Christmas markets. Most of the markets sell the same things, but it's still nice to visit them to "get into the Christmas spirit" and pick up some traditional Czech food.

Christmas market at Náměstí Míru
Christmas market at Anděl
Christmas Market at Prague Castle

In addition to Christmas markets around Prague, my school had a Christmas Market where students baked food and sold handmade crafts to teachers and parents. Some of my students even constructed a "vending machine" that released muffins.

All of a sudden, all my students knew enough English to ask me to visit their booths and buy something from them. Fortunately/unfortunately, I was able to use the fact that I'm a teacher to explain why I can't buy something from all of them. I did buy a candle though and splurged on some sushi that my students were assembling and wrapping (not exactly Czech or Christmas-y, but who can say no to sushi?)

As with Thanksgiving, I have also been having English conversations with my 4th and 5th grade students about Christmas. I've had them tell me about Czech Christmas traditions and compare them to American Christmas traditions. Here's what I've learned from my students:

1. Santa does not visit the Czech Republic. Instead, children get and open their presents from Ježíšek (baby Jesus) on December 24th.
2. A traditional Czech Christmas dinner consists of carp fish and potato salad and kánočka (a braided sweet bread) and cukroví (sugar cookies) for dessert.
3. Some families buy their carp fish alive and keep it for a day or two in their bathtubs. This is an older tradition though and some of my students didn't even know what I was talking about when I asked.
4. Originating from a Pagan belief, people are not supposed to eat meat on Christmas Eve until dinner time. To keep kids from snitching, they are told that if they wait to eat meat, they might see a "Golden Pig"
5. Some people hollow out walnuts and make a boat with the shell. They then light a candle in it and put it in water to see how it floats. How your walnut boat fares determines what the next year will bring you.
6. Some families heat chunks of lead and then quickly place the metal liquid in water. You then are supposed to predict your future by examining the design that is made after the metal re-hardens.
7. Some families cut apples in half horizontally. If the core makes a star, you have good luck. If it makes a cross, you're in bad luck

To see what these Czech traditions and more look like, check out my favorite Czech YouTuber: The Honest Guide

With my first grade students, I did a letter exchange with one of my teacher friend's classes back in the United States. My students got super excited at the idea of exchanging letters with American children and had fun drawing Christmas pictures (we can't really write in English yet in 1st grade). They also thought the English names of the students they were assigned to were hilarious. Fortunately we got the Christmas letters from my teacher friend just this week. We read the letters to my students and they went crazy to hear phrases they could understand ("My favorite color is..." ; "I am _____ years old").

Some of my students posing with their American Christmas cards.

Another way I got into the Christmas spirit this year was by taking a day trip to Český Krumlov.

Český Krumlov

Located 2 hours south of Prague, Český Krumlov is a picturesque town taken directly from a storybook. So much so, that it is actually a Unesco World Heritage Site. While high season is during the summer, I wanted to go during December to see the village decorated like a holiday Christmas card.

Two fellow CIEE participants, Elisabeth and Keenan, accompanied me for this trip. We left Prague early on Saturday morning by bus and arrived in Český Krumlov at 10am. Luckily, the entire town in easily accessible by foot. And I wouldn't recommend visiting any other way- Český Krumlov's cobblestoned streets are meant to be viewed and admired.

While I think the town would have looked especially cute with a fresh layer of snow on the ground, I was thankful that we didn't get any while there- I'm not one who enjoys walking on snowy/slippery roads. The beginning of the day was actually sunny:

 However, the Czech Republic is known for overcast skies in the fall/winter and sure enough, by noon, the gray clouds began moving in.

As it was off-season, some of the main sights were closed for winter (giving me an excuse to go back and visit later next year). This, however, was a good thing because I didn't feel any sense of urgency to explore and visit everything in one day.

In fact, after grabbing some coffee in a café, Elisabeth, Keenan, and I spent most of the day walking around on foot.

We visited some shops:

The amount of puppets was plentiful

Checked out the small, but beautiful Church of St Vitus:

And also stumbled upon yet another Christmas Market in the Town Square where the three of us split a large serving of freshly made fries and potato wedges.

Next, we headed up to the Castle Tower where, after climbing many steps, you are rewarded with 360 degree views of Český Krumlov.

Český Krumlov cut into two by the Vltava River

We then headed over to Český Krumlov's Renaissance castle. Unfortunately, the inside of the castle is closed during winter months. However, we were still able to check out the castle grounds, which gives you even more great views of the town.

Again, while Český Krumlov might be ideal to visit in the summer, it was still well worth the visit in winter to get in the Christmas mood.

For Christmas and New Years this year, I will be in Italy. My next blog post will be all about my adventures there. In the meantime, I hope everyone has an amazing Christmas/New Years. See you in 2019!

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