a simpler sort of christmas

hello all, i hope you have  had a magical christmas wherever in the world you celebrated it, if you are in fact celebrating, that is.

once again, we had a truly czech christmas here in budejovice. normally we get almost two full weeks of holiday for christmas, and we opted to stay put this year mostly because 1) iceland, which i felt was almost like a christmas in and of itself, but also 2) our visa issues (from receiving it to reapplying for our next) making us a bit lighter in the wallet this time of year.

but no matter, we had decided to fully embrace a simpler sort of christmas this year. that is what christmas is really about, anyway. about giving, kindness, togetherness, and as i absolutely a challenge in resourcefulness, this holiday has been great for that! we decided not to give more than a few gifts this year and focus on getting our existing things (from watches to coats) repaired instead. i also made a lot of our decorations from natural materials, even more so than last year.

on the eve of christmas eve, we went out for one last christmas market hurrah and to sing some czech christmas carols and peruse the stalls one final time. a delightful folksy band with funny fur hats and jackets played traditional koledy, some that we now know most of just from spending seven christmas seasons here. now i know the names of them, thanks to my choir. my favorites are půjdem spolu do betléma and pásli ovce valaši. this was the year i finally understood the magic of czech carols and why we shouldn’t push our anglicized carols on czechs too much – these traditional carols are beautiful. 

i realized that after seven (and maybe more to come?) christmases in the czech republic that christmases may never be the same again. how we’ve come to love the festive atmosphere in the square, day after day. the smell of punch wafting into my path as i walk by the town hall. there’s too much to love.

on christmas eve, we went round to a family friend’s and had a magical evening of gifts, playing games, schnitzel and potato salad, prosecco, walks with the dogs and traditions, like this czech apple-cutting tradition. if you cut the apple in half and see a star, this is lucky. if you cut it and see a cross, well, that’s clearly unlucky. fortunately we all got stars – a good omen for the coming year. and i can’t believe i got housed in a english language bluffing card game by a czech five year old. my poker face is the worst around. finally, i realized why we never actually eat carp schnitzels with the k family – someone has a fish-related allergy. alas, i shall never know carp schnitzel, but třeboň is never far (the best place to have fish dishes in the country) so i can wait until then. 

i’m glad i took several minutes when i got home to sit in the glow of our tree by myself and listen to some acapella tunes, such as ave maria, o holy night, and silent night. there is so much noise and bustle over the christmas holidays that i find some time for quiet reflection on the holidays is essential. it just doesn’t feel quite like the holidays if this time is missing.

on christmas day we enjoyed a wonderfully lazy day at home and a delicious christmas smorgasbord-style lunch spread as we love to do: wild alaskan smoked salmon (that i stash away for special occasions), shrimp cocktail, mince pies, and this fancy vegan cheese wheel i made. as much as i love cheese, we have started to cut back on dairy in our household (more than before) and i promised i would forgo real cheese in favor of this cashew-based cheese*. no deprivation on any of our parts – it came out absolutely gorgeously and we couldn’t get enough of it – running out of crackers in the process. note: always get more crackers than you think.

alex listened to his new albums he received and i read and watched airwaves videos (can’t stop won’t stop) of performances i had missed. we eventually settled down with some eggnog and a viewing of miracle on 34th street, the newer 1994 version which i hadn’t seen. (the older one is the best! don’t bother) he also read me a poem he had written to me for christmas. it was beautiful. i cried happy tears.

we also enjoyed the calm atmosphere outside on walks with nary a soul around, lit all the candles, chatted with my family, and watched our first czech christmas fairy tale: tři oříšky pro popelku. (three hazelnuts for cinderella) this is an absolutely beloved classic, and many of my students have told me they planned on watching it this christmas! it was so magical, and even though i didn’t grow up with it, i can easily see why it’s a classic. the snowy winter aesthetic is so perfect for this time of year!

fun fact: this film was a 1973 co-production between barrandov studios (prague) and babelsberg (potsdam/berlin) and was filmed with both czech and east german actors, speaking of course their own respective languages (!). this film is equally beloved in germany i have been told, except all the czech actors are dubbed into german (and vice versa when shown in czech!). if you’re interested, you can watch it too right here.

we haven’t much on the docket for the rest of the holiday besides reading, perhaps a bit of visiting with friends, and anything else that takes up a lot of time that we don’t necessarily have during other times of the year. these two weeks are a blessing. you may have also noticed it seems sort of no-frills around here lately as i had to recover the blog from a hacking attempt the day after christmas… and then realized i’m kind of vibing with the blacks and whites lately. so there you go.

i hope you have or are still deeply enjoying your holidays! see you soon with a 2018 recap.

ps, you might like our last czech christmas from two years ago or thoughts on embracing a local christmas.

* because i know someone will ask, it’s based on a recipe from sarah britton’s first cookbook (my bible).