Christmas,  czech culture,  Czech Republic,  Expat Life,  Language Learning,  South Bohemia,  Winter

When You Miss the Country Right Outside Your Window (+ Holiday Plans)

Hello friends, hope you’ve been well. It’s another strange holiday season, thankfully a bit less strange than last year. They thought they could cancel all Christmas markets in the Czech Republic: the ordinance came out on Thanksgiving Day and we all scrambled to enjoy it properly one last time even though I forgot to even look at the stalls or buy anything! However, what ended up happening at least in Budejovice is that everything else remained open: the skating rink, the rides (yes, we have rides!) and even some beverage stands! It’s the Christmas market minus the market part, which is still being heartily enjoyed by everyone here in South Bohemia. (Don’t get me started on the fact that shopping centers are open but outdoor market stalls can’t be.)

With that set-back and still no choir or any of the planned nightly concerts in the square that I love so much this time of year, it’s felt odd. Our Czech teacher has also been out of commission for several weeks due to COVID, so we had found ourselves really missing contact with the culture we currently live in. In these colder months, it’s way too easy to enjoy your own favorite English TV shows and speak only with English-speaking friends. (Even on a recent visit with a Czech friend whom I normally speak only Czech with, we slipped and spoke English most of the time, ugh)

After living in the Czech Republic for nine years and dealing with this pandemic, I think these things can happen to foreigners. For one, we are no longer quite as focused on getting out and experiencing all that Czech life has to offer as we were years ago; between life, work, general end of year exhaustion and other plans that’ve been made, you sometimes just sort of forget to take trips and seek out new experiences. And two, many cultural events have been cancelled, even this year.

What to do when you find yourself feeling like an outsider for a moment? When you walk outside your door and feel startled to hear a foreign language? When I get feeling like this every so often, here are some things I like to do:

  • Watch Czech TV. It doesn’t matter so much if you understand every word, it’s more important that you just get the general jist of what’s going on. If I hadn’t done that last week, I wouldn’t have learned that Jak se vede? was an alternative to Jak se máš? and that’s something!
  • Make a plan to go to a cultural event – especially around the holidays, there are many things still happening. Theater, concerts, Christmas cultural events, even the zoo – browse through events (I find Facebook most useful for this) and see what’s happening in your city or region.
  • Make a date with a friend who speaks the language and really try not to speak English.
  • Listen to Czech radio or music. This time of year, especially missing my choir and watching other performances, I love turning on the Koledy playlist on Spotify and listening to my favorite Czech Christmas carols. I think actual radio is even better because you can listen to reports (news, weather) between the music.
  • Make a point to watch some Czech films. There are so many I have shamefully never seen… including Pelíšky. (I know).
  • Read something in Czech language. Whether doing language homework from a textbook, one of those English/Czech easy readers, or I like to read simple magazines, like the ones from DM which have general lifestyle articles that are geared towards all people and therefore not too hard to understand.

When I actually make time to do these things, especially in the cold and sometimes reclusive winter season, I feel a lot better. Last week we caught an absolutely gorgeous opera, Mefistofeles, which is by far the best opera I think I have ever seen in my life, let alone here at the South Bohemian Theatre (Jihočeské divadlo)… and I was even in an Opera Club in high school! Even though it was a Monday night and I was a tired after a long day at work, it was completely worth it to see such a spectacular performance, and I think things like this really cheer the soul.

This year for the holidays, we are embarking on the very ambitious plan to meet up with family members from the USA which we had scheduled as far back as summer 2019, but weren’t able to go through with in December 2020 for obvious reasons. This year, being told we couldn’t extend our non-refundable cottage reservation until 2022 as the situation should be sufficient enough to visit (from the owner’s point of view), so finally, we decided we’re going through with Operation: Happy Christmas, which means all being well, we’ll spend the holidays in the UK this year, with a stop along the way in my first favorite European city. Ferdie is even joining us, and I’m so excited for him to see his grand-owners! With the hysteria over Omicron, they aren’t making this easy. (I am taking four different COVID tests that I know of during the duration of the trip, including one before I go, pre-trip to make sure I don’t get on a plane while positive) It’s a risk, to be sure, but if all goes okay, I think a very Happy Christmas should indeed be had, indeed. Going to spend the next week social distancing as much as humanly possible!

Until then, one more week of work and enjoying the festive season here in the Czech Republic (and the snow on the ground) as much as I can and hoping travel requirements don’t become any stricter. Wishing you all a very happy and safe holiday season and hope to have happy tales to share upon my return. Veselé Vánoce!

PS, You might like that Christmas a few years ago when we didn’t go anywhere and had such a beautiful and traditional Czech Christmastime.