First off, I never know which traditions apply for Christmas eve and which ones apply for New Year’s eve. So it’s possible I will get things a little mixed up, but not too much. There are also some regional differences. Things tend to be a little less traditional in Bratislava for example.
- Slovak women bake cookies. Days in advance they’re all baking. These cookies may look quite nice, but I don’t see why they go through all that trouble. They are not tasty according to me. Any Belgian supermarket has waaaay better cookies and cakes on its shelves at very affordable prices. And am not buying into the idea that Slovak homebaked cookies are somehow healthier. There’s sugar in there. It’s bad for ya. Slovak supermarkets do not offer any tasty cookies or cakes. I blame Slovak women for this.
- If they identify as Christian they will probably go to the midnight mass. Your usual masochist try to stay awake exercise that I have been weasling out of for years. I remember the recurring core message from my Catholic childhood. We are all sinners and should not judge other people. Then go home and sin and judge other people, so you have to keep coming back to Church to cure the incurable. Am not sure to what extent God’s Covid scourge has tripped up this fiesta this year. Pretty badly I think.
- Slovaks look forward to having potato salad during these days. It’s a mystery as to why this is special. I think Germans eat potatoe salad regularly and of far superior quality. Here you get strangely tasteless refrigerated goo. It doesn’t even contain real mayonaise. Am not a foodie AT ALL, but I am seriously surprised Slovaks see this as delicious and something to look forward to. It’s like looking forward to eating a peanut butter sandwhich. Which does taste better than Slovak potatoe salad.
- There will probably be fish on the menu. At least for New Year. If you want to have it very traditional then the fish should be bought whilst still alive and kept in your bath tub for a few days. The kids then name it and bond with it and then you smack it with a hammer. You prepare it and complain that carp contains a lot of grates. On the plus side: carp is cheap. No, am not inventing this. They do that.
- The women are all really stressed out slaving away. Cleaning the whole house. Running a Parisian bakery, but with iffy output. The men tend to hide in one of the smaller rooms of the apartment. Some chop wood.
- Presents tend to be unwrapped before midnight. Yes, they are kept under the Christmas tree. More and more of those trees are actually fake. We didn’t have many Christmas traditions where I grew up, but our trees were real and smelled nice. My father would concoct some very suspect cherry brandy he never drank himself, but liked to hangover bomb the neighbours with. Right, am going off topic.
- Every year Slovaks ask me what people do at Christmas in Belgium. I always tell them they eat a lot and there is no traditional Christmas dinner that I know of. We had something else every year. I only remember it was absolutely delicious and it took a fifth of the work Slovaks put into their cookies and potato salad.
- Something I like about the Christmas holidays in Slovakia is a soup called kapustnica. It smells like an old fashioned cesspit while it’s being prepared, but it tastes good and you can feel your body going: something with such an unusual taste has got to be healthy. And it is. I think.
- From what I gather many Slovaks don’t eat the whole day until it’s time for dinner. I confess am a masochist, but never enough of a masochist to ever qualify for true Slovakhood. I had a hearthy, strictly non-traditional lunch.
- They eat something like big homily bread called ‘oplatky’. They taste like those awful wafres you sometimes get when you order a cup of coffee.
- Don’t let my dissing tone make you think I hate Slovak Christmas. I don’t hate much. I hate Obama, Biden, the Bush family, Israel, Saudi-Arabia, administration, weapon dealers, the mainstream media, most cars, most music produced outside of the 1964 to 1994 time frame… I do not hate Slovak Christmas. It’s nice. In a how did I ever end up in this place kinda way. This country is fairytale land to me. Am feeling like Satan meets the hobbits. And I needed that. I really did.
- Look, I mean this, it’s damn endearing to see people care so, so, soooo much about almost flavorless cookies and the most common potato salad imaginable. I only feel at home when am an outsider.
- I am pretending that drinking Pilsner is a cornerstone of Slovak Christmas traditions.
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Janice Combs Hankins
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