Advent traditions and folk customs

Advent traditions and folk customs

That magical time just before Christmas, full of interesting customs. Discover what they are all about!

Advent traditions and folk customs
Christmas is a holiday eagerly anticipated not only by children but also by adults. It is a time of long dark nights, when the darkness is illuminated by thousands of lights, a time of joyful anticipation and a festive atmosphere. Today's celebrations of the birth of Jesus Christ are associated with many traditions that are influenced by Christian and pagan customs. Which customs are still alive in the Czech Republic today?

Advent has arrived

The Advent time begins exactly 4 weeks before Christmas, when people are preparing for the celebrations and when decorations from the streets and shops are transferred to many a household. On the first Sunday of Advent, many people start decorating their homes and baking Christmas cookies, and Christmas or Advent markets appear in the town squares. The largest Advent market in the Czech Republic will take place in Prague's Old Town Square this year.

Advent wreaths light up homes

During Advent of the past, people gave up meat and awaited Christmas. Today, few people observe true fasting, but some customs have endured throughout the centuries. The most common tradition of Advent in Czech households is to have an Advent wreath at home. It is a wreath of mostly evergreens, such as conifers or ivy, with four candles. These candles represent the symbolic countdown of the four Advent weeks that lead up to Christmas. A candle is lit every Sunday. You can make a beautiful Advent wreath at home or buy it at Christmas markets.

Blooming cherry branches

Fresh flowers in December? Why not! Cutting off cherry branches is a tradition in the Czech Republic and is based on a pre-Christian tradition. On the feast of St. Barbara, December 4, cut a cherry branch from a cherry or sour cherry tree. Take it home where the temperature is nice and warm, put it in a vase with water and care for it just as you would for any other cut flower. If the branch blooms for you by Christmas Eve on December 24, all your wishes will come true the following year. The blossoming branches symbolised the sun's victory over winter since they bloomed around the winter solstice. Today, it is just a sweet and fragrant tradition.

St. Nicholas‘ Day – the herald of Christmas

Another pre-Christmas tradition is the celebration of the Feast of St. Nicholas. The holiday falls on December 6, but it is traditionally celebrated on the night before. Once upon a time, the days did not begin at midnight, but at sunset. In the evening, St. Nicholas, an angel, and a devil make their rounds to all the Czech households. Good children are rewarded by St. Nicholas and the naughty ones are punished by the devil. But the devil only functions as somewhat of deterrent. Children always receive small gifts and sweets from St. Nicholas, who is usually a dressed-up relative in disguise. In recent years, it has become customary for these three supernal beings to visit not only households, but also Advent markets and city centres. On the eve of December 5, after it gets dark, you can meet many a devil there who rally seem to have sprung from hell itself rather than being intended for catering to children’s whimsical fantasies. This tradition is once again rooted in the past in pre-Christian times, when, in winter, the gates of the underworld supposedly opened.

Saint Lucy and her many disguises

On the eve of the Feast of St. Lucy on December 13, figures dressed in white walked throughout households. Each Lucy looked a little according to each region. Some were wrapped in white robes with masks and clapping beaks, others had their faces powdered with flour, while some were dressed in black. They checked the households to see if everything was as it should be. Today, in some regions, such as south Bohemia, it is more just about fun for young girls around the age of 10, who can carol, play and maybe tease their parents a little.

Experience traditions first-hand

The best place to learn about folk customs of Advent time is in open-air museums. Try visiting the open-air museum Veselý Kopec in east Bohemia. On December 10, you will be greeted by the Advent Fair with folk traditions and craftsmen. You can then visit the open-air museum in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm in Moravia on December 5, when the traditional Eve of St. Nicholas will be ready for you and your children during the afternoon. A tour of the area awaits you, along with gifts from St. Nick! And you will experience an authentic Christmas Fair in Rožnov on the weekend of December 9 and 10. Throughout the day, there will be an offer of gifts from the workshops of folk craftsmen, carolling, St. Lucys and devils will be making their rounds and all exhibitions in this Wallachian village will come to life for you. You will feel like you have gone back in time a good 150 years.