Slovaks and Christmas Traditions

Christmas is celebrated throughout the world by different peoples in a slightly different way. Slovaks around the world celebrate Christmas in their own special way, the difference only varying by religion, region or country. With over 1/3 of all Slovaks living outside of Slovak Republic, some of the traditions have taken on the face of their adopted country but they all still share in the common bond of their ancestors living in what today is called Slovakia.

The Christian celebration of Christmas is linked with the pagan feast of the winter solstice. Ancient Slovak forefathers ascribed magic powers to this special time of the year. They believed that the rites would serve to protect the crops and cattle from harmful demons, to ensure a good harvest, to bring happiness in love and in family life in the year to come. The rise of Christianity in Europe subordinated this feast to the church calendar of Christ being born on December 25, but some of the other Christmas customs were nevertheless taken over from pagan traditions and myths, and even determine the course and character of these celebrations of the eternal victory of life over death to this very day.

Some of the more famous pagan myths that today have a Christian twist are:

  • 11th November, St.Martin's day, was the beginning of the winter solstice;

  • 25th November St. Katherine’s day, there followed a winter period of quiet and fasting. It was a time for love magic with all kinds of spells and magic;

  • 30th November, St. Andrew's day, "halushky" (a national pasta dish) were cooked, into which unmarried girls put slips of paper of the names of young men;

  • 6th December, St. Nicholas day, the traditional day for Slovaks for exchanging gifts;

  • 13th December, St. Lucia's day, when the powers of darkness were said to do more harm than usual to people's health and property. In the evening women dressed up in fancy dress and ritually chased the evil spirits out of their houses;

  • 24th December (Christmas Eve). The Slovak words for Christmas Eve are literally "bountiful eve" and the bounty of this sacred evening lies in the wide range of festive dishes, of which there had to be twelve different kinds. Even today many Slovak families must have on the Christmas table garlic (to ward off demons), honey, wafers, nuts, cooked peas or French beans, dried fruit, and the main dish, cabbage soup with mushrooms and "opekance" - small pieces of dough - with poppy seed and honey. At the beginning of this century, fish has become the traditional meat served during Christmas Eve (their scales are said to bring wealth into the house) in the Catholic portion of the population while the Lutherans would add smoked meats and sausage to their cabbage soup. Christmas holidays are also very rich in Slovak pastries and baked goods that are prepared over many evenings during the month of December.

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All contents to this article 1997, Ondro Mihal.
All comments should be forwarded to
Ondro Mihal at omihal@slovak.com.
Last update on December 16, 1997.