Christmas Tree and Christmas Eve
On the Christmas Eve presents are found under the Christmas tree.
Christmas trees are usually decorated on Christmas Eve, December 24th, or earlier in some families. Nativity scenes are arranged, Christmas presents are wrapped and preparations for Christmas dinner are made. The Czech traditional Christmas dinner consists of fish soup, breaded fried carp fillets and potato salad. As the Christmas menu varies from region to region as well as family to family, there are indeed a whole host of recipes used. Tourists can also enjoy the Czech Christmas atmosphere as most of the restaurants and hotels offer traditional Czech Christmas meals.
The tradition of decorating Christmas trees is not very old in the Czech Republic. Legend has it that the first Christmas tree in Prague was erected for Christmas in 1812 at the Libeň Chateau by the director of the Estates Theatre J. K. Liebich for his guests. Soon after, the Czech aristocracy and wealthy townspeople followed his lead and in 1840, the tradition of Christmas tree decorating was wide-spread. In the past, trees were decorated with sweets, various folk ornaments made from wood, gingerbread or dough, although nowadays they have mostly been replaced by blown glass and colorful tinsel. However, traditional ornaments made from natural materials are slowly making their comeback including straw ornaments, apples, nuts and the orange fruit of the Chinese lantern plant. Originally, the Christmas tree was hung tip-down, not standing upright. Nowadays, the trees are taken down on the day of the Magi or the following Sunday.
Christmas is a family holiday where no one should stay home alone. That’s why the entire family usually meets at the Christmas dinner table and if someone lives alone, they are invited over by friends or neighbours. The festive dinner is followed by the special moment which children look forward to all year long - unwrapping the presents from under the tree that were left by baby Jesus. To get the presents they wished for, many children write letters to baby Jesus before Christmas. On Christmas Eve, baby Jesus enters each home and leaves presents under the tree. He lights the candles and lights on it and then disappears without being seen just before the Christmas bell rings. Christmas carols are usually sung under the lit Christmas tree. The most famous are: Christ the King is Born (originated in the 15th century), Wanting Him to Fall Asleep (17th century), Merry Feast of Yuletide (late 17th century), Come All Ye Shepherds (from 1847) and Silent Night (originally Austrian from 1818), as well as Czech carols: Půjdem spolu do Betléma (Come Together to Bethlehem), Stojí vrba košatá, Dej Bůh štěstí (May God Bless You).
At midnight, people usually go to church for J. J. Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass.