When I was a little boy
in my home town Bratislava, I can remember the beginning of the Christmas
season by the appearance of fruits that we haven't seen for most of the
year in the produce stores. There were bananas, mandarin oranges, peanuts
and sometimes even coconuts. We all new that even in the poorest families,
some of the fruits and nuts would appear as the gift from St. Nicholas.
St. Nicholas (Mikulas) is still celebrated on December 6. Sometimes you
would get a visit by St. Nicholas, Devil and an Angel. You had to promise
that you will be good for the whole year and the reward was candies,
chocolates, nuts and fruits a real treat for all. Sometimes you were asked
to put your shoes and boots on the window sill before you went to bed and
if you were good, you would find the gifts from St. Nicholas in the
morning and if you were bad, your shoes or boots were filled with real
"Good evening, I
wish happiness and peace to this house. To you, your wife, your children
and the whole family." This was the wish that would open the doors of
the homes since ancient times, days before Christmas. Strict tradition of
reconciliation was preserved with the arrival of Christmas season. They
would return all borrowed items, they would make up for past differences,
between the neighbors and family. "Forgive me Godfather, forgive me neighbor,
because the Christmas is coming."
Only then the man and his
family could sit at the Christmas Eve table. Only then the floor under the
table could be painted with clean white limestone. The legs of the table
were tied by iron chain as a symbol of family ties and togetherness. The
Christmas dinner started with the appearance of the first star. On the
table they would put a bread and all the gifts that they prepared
throughout the year. Every product grown at the farm was represented at
the Christmas Eve dinner.
The mother would light up
the candles and with soft and clean voice, clean as the white table cloth
on the Christmas table, would start singing the first Christmas carol. The
rest of the family would join her in singing. "Now we can eat,"
the father would say, "because soon the carolers and well wishers
will arrive. "Then they would say a prayer. Mother would make a cross
with honey on the forehead of each member of the family as a protection
against evil. All of them would dip a special Christmas Eve waffle in
honey and eat it together with garlic. Honey, to be good and healthy as
the bees are, and the garlic to scare the bad evils of sickness. The
father would slice an apple according to the number of people at the
table. The person whose seed was cut was to die in the year. Next were
"bobalky," and I don't know the English word for it. They were
made from bread dough baked in oven in small pieces, cut up from dough
roll. Before serving a mixture of hot water with sugar and ground poppy
seeds was poured over and then served. This was followed by the Christmas
sauerkraut soup and breaded fish with potato salad of just potatoes. The
fish symbolized the last supper. At the same time fish scales, put under
each plate for the Christmas Eve dinner symbolized wealth and abundance.
Hriatuo was never missing at the table together with some good home brewed
plum brandy-slivovica. After dinner close relatives and neighbors used to
call on each other and "kolednici and vinsovnici," (carolers
and well wishers) would start to arrive. All the carolers and well wishers
were always rewarded by pastries, food, bacon or some drink to keep them
warm. Later they all went to Midnight Mass, preceded by some most
beautiful Christmas carols. There are many Christmas carols that are
specifically of Slovak origin and they are very colorful. They were sung
in the church, the family circle or in different processions below
windows, at the time of Nativity plays, processions with the cradle, the
snake, and the star, the Three Wise Kings, procession from house to house,
and so on.
The Christmas three in
old days used to hang from the ceiling beam. The decorations were all home
made. Paper and straw ornaments or chains, honey pastries, walnuts,
apples, pine cones, wax candles.
My favorite wish is:
Vinšujem Vám v tento velký sviatok, aby na
vašom stole bolo vždy všetkého dostatok, chleba peceň,
syra hruda, a na poli bohatá úroda, v maštali mocný statok, v sýpke
obylia dosti, aby ste všetci žili v svorosti. Toto vinšujeme Vám gazda
i Vám gazdinná, vašim dietkam i celej rodine.
Vysliš Pane Bože.
Now in 2003 it will be our 34 Christmas in Canada.
Six years ago we have
made almost all of our traditional folk ornaments and decorations with the
help of our children and we are reviving the old Christmas traditions and
I have been to a Midnight
Mass almost every year as I especially enjoy our Church's Choir singing
beautiful traditional Christmas Carols.
You warm-up honey in the
pot. When the honey is really warm, you add geese lard or butter. At the
end you add clear alcohol or vodka. You can substitute sugar for the honey
from which the Hriatuo will get golden color. According to older people
Hriatuo is a good medicine against cough or common cold. Hriatuo is often drunk at weddings, christenings and Christmas eve. Drink hot.
From CAKLOV-ZEMPLIN County
You fry a little butter
in the pot, add little of granulated sugar, cook it until it turns to
caramel. Add little water, bring the mixture to a boil add a bit of ground
coffee and pour in alcohol or vodka or slivovica to taste. Drink Hot.
This is a traditional
Slovak Christmas Eve dish.
You will need: 2 pounds
of flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, one tablespoon of salt, vanilla, 1/2 cup of
butter or margarine, one table spoon of oil, 2 eggs, 4-5 tablespoons of
dry yeast. Mix all dry ingredients, add butter or margarine, oil, eggs,
mix well together and let rise. Roll out the dough to about a thickness of
an inch, cut into stripes, roll the stripes into sticks of about 1/2 to
3/4 inch. Cut into one inch pieces and place on a well greased baking
sheet. Bake until golden.
You can make Bobalky few days before the Christmas Eve. Prior to serving
place the Bobalky in a bowl. Bring about a quart of water to a boil and
pour it over Bobalky. Drain the water. Separate Bobalky into two bowls.
Usually one is covered with a mixture of ground poppy seeds with sugar and
the other is covered with fried sauerkraut over butter.
Take a pound or more of
smoked pork, ham or smoked pork hooks and cook it. Take the meat out, if
you want, separate the fat and cut up the rest. Add a pound of pork meat,
one large diced onion, diced garlic, caraway seed, marjoram, dried
mushrooms, one small can of tomato paste, few dried plums, and a jar of
sauerkraut. You cook it for few hours and add couple of Hungarian farmer
sausages. You can also make a soup thickener, sautéed flour in butter
with red hot powdered pepper. Than cut up the pork and put back the smoked
meat. The sausage is sliced just prior to serving. We usually eat the
sauerkraut soup with good European style rye or sour dough bread.
The sauerkraut soup gets better tasting after each re-heating, so we
usually cook our sauerkraut soup few days before Christmas.
TO SLOVAK CHRISTMAS
TO CHRISTMAS PHOTO ALBUM OF LINDER FAMILY
TO FOLK CUSTOMS
Published in the
Slovak Heritage Live newsletter Volume 1, No. 4, Winter 1993
Copyright © Vladimir Linder 1993
3804 Yale Street, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada V5C 1P6
The above article and photographs may not be copied, reproduced,
republished, or redistributed by any means including electronic, without
the express written permission of Vladimir
Linder. All rights reserved.