If you are a planner like me and already thinking ahead on how (and where) to spend the next holiday season, you clicked on the right page. How about a virtual trip to my home in Slovakia, to give you some ideas?
Yes, Christmas has just passed by and your stomach is still full of all the great meals your mother made for you with love, and you haven’t even gotten over your New Year’s Eve hangover. So what? That doesn’t mean I can’t guide you through how “the most wonderful time of the year” looks like in my motherland. And by the way, I documented it all this time and added some authentic photos so you can see for yourself.
Christmas in Slovakia is a truly magical and spiritual thing.
Like in Germany, it all starts four Sundays before Christmas Eve with what is called “Advent”. As my Grandma says, it’s an old religious tradition that was used to spiritually prepare believers for the birth of baby Jesus. Most Slovaks accept this time as an official start of Christmas, as religion (mainly Christianity) is a deeply rooted element of Slovak traditions.
Also like in Germany, the 6th of December – St. Nicholas Day – is the first important day of the season for us. To be honest, children enjoy it the most, because they get a little sneak-peek of Christmas: a boot-full of sweets pre-game. Yes, their winter boots play an important role.
Our round-bellied St. Nicholas is like the pop culture Santa Claus we now know, only his huge bag is filled with sweets instead of toys. Little ones are told to clean their boots (yes, child labour is allowed once a year) and put them on windowsills the night before so they can wake up and find them loaded with sweet tooth destroyers.
By the way, age is not so important; I am 25 and still put my boots close to my window just in case he makes a mistake and leaves a chocolate or two.
The sweet theme keeps going the whole time. Women gather in the kitchen early to bake various types of cookies from tons of flour. Meanwhile, men’s cursing frequency is rising as they think it’s a waste of money.
In the end, the men are the ones secretly stealing the sweets at night.
The most traditional type is what we call “medovníky”, cookies made from honey dough and decorated with white sugar icing that resembles snow.
Christmas Eve is really something to look forward to. The Christmas tree is decorated, fairy lights are making everything look cosy and the TV is on, airing traditional fairy tales.
Before Christmas dinner, children are sometimes sent to church to bring “Bethlehem Light” home to be put in the middle of the table. Fried carp is the traditional Christmas meal; but nowadays, people like to make exceptions and grill salmon instead or prepare falafels in case they don’t eat meat. It’s really about preference these days.
The real thrill comes after the dinner; children impatiently wait for a bell to ring so they can run and try to catch a glimpse of baby Jesus putting presents under the tree. To be honest, I was always super afraid and found it really freaky to think about a newborn child putting presents under our tree, and never wanted to go alone in case he was still there.
You heard right, there is no Father Christmas or Santa Claus squeezing through the fireplace, there is a baby. Traditions are sometimes a freaky, freaky thing.
The beautiful highlight of the evening is the midnight mass and, trust me, not only believers are visiting the church then.
There’s something about the atmosphere that makes people want to experience it; something about standing together and united while singing “Silent Night” that puts peace in your heart, a feeling rarely felt these days.
And how does New Year’s Eve actually tend to look like in Slovakia? Just like Christmas Eve minus the presents, plus alcohol and pyrotechnics. And of course, more food.
People in Slovakia are used to eating their way into the New Year. No wonder there are New Year’s resolutions full of promises of losing tons of weight being talked about every other minute.
A huge dinner is served once again, after which some people prefer to go to the town centre and wait for the end of the old year surrounded by friends and mulled wine. Others like to curl up under a blanket with their closest family, watch special TV programmes, laugh, drink and eat some more. Either way, hangover is an inevitable thing to wake up to the first day of the New Year.
Slovakia also offers a suitable option for those seeking out sports, as the country is located at the heart of the Carpathian Mountains, and there are ski resorts offering great deals during the holidays. Waiting for the old year to end while skiing or snowboarding makes you feel like you productively and meaningfully started something new.
Can you imagine anything more exciting?
So this is what the magical season of the year looks like where I come from. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine a year without taking part in this huge mess; it’s something that brings back memories and makes me feel loved.
So if you dare and decide to try and experience it next year, I hope you will love it as much as I do.