The Christmas holidays in Vlkolínec were full of traditional customs commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ.
There had to be plenty of food on the table at Christmas. Some dishes were prepared ahead of time, as there would not be enough time to prepare everything on Christmas Day. This is how people prepared, for example, sweet bread gnocchi with poppy seeds or the lattice crust pie.
On Christmas Day, men had to chop up enough wood to last for the three feast days, as working was not allowed during that time. They also had to prepare enough feed for domestic animals. Together with their sons, they brought a Christmas tree from the woods, usually a fir tree. The tree was then decorated by the kids, who usually used hand-made ornaments. Tree ornaments also included dried apples or nuts.
However, women were the ones with most work on this day. They had to prepare a large number of traditional Christmas dishes. They were helped by their daughters. Women would start working very early, usually around five in the morning. They had to knead the dough for the pastries, whip the filling, and then bake the pastries. They prepared a number of different types: with curd, jam, or poppy seed filling, rolled pastries, but also a sort of baked goods without filling, called braided bread buns. They also needed to cook the prunes and dried pears, which they called “opečky”.
They also prepared a typical local Christmas Eve soup. They cooked dried peas in a sauerkraut soup without sauerkraut, and also added dried mushrooms. In the same soup, they also cooked the fish which had been caught in autumn and then smoked.
People were on a strict fast until midnight. They could only eat one meal during the day, so they had to wait until dinner. However, meat was not allowed until midnight, with the exception of fish.
In the evening, they covered the table with the most beautiful white tablecloth and everyone dressed up in festive clothes, men had to shave. A wooden container with a little bit of barley was placed on the table as well, as an expression of gratitude for the current year’s harvest. On top of the barley, they later placed a clove of garlic, a few beans and some coins as well. That represented people’s wish for the upcoming year to be at least as good as the current one.
When it got dark, the sound of bell ringing in Vlkolínec announced the time for the evening prayer. At that time, everyone in the house was ready for dinner. They had lit a candle on the table, they had prepared the cutlery, wafers and a cup with honey. Everyone at the table stood up and prayed. After the prayer, everyone got a wafer with honey. There was a particular custom associated with this. The mother put honey on her children’s foreheads. It was believed that the children would then be as sweet as honey the next year.
After the wafers, it was time for the sweet bread gnocchi with poppy seeds. Everyone used their forks and picked them from the common bowl.
The next dish was the already mentioned Christmas Eve pea soup. After the soup, it was time for the cooked pears and prunes, then the cooked smoked trout and, finally, the pastries.
When everyone was full, the father put a piece of bread and a few pastries in a basket and took it to the stable for the animals, so they could have a Christmas treat as well.
Then children put on their overcoats and went into the streets in groups to sing Christmas songs around the village. As the children were singing, the housewives came out of their houses and gave them pastries and some money.
Fifteen minutes before midnight, the church bell rang and people went to the midnight mass at the church, which was lit up with candles and oil lamps. The midnight mass was attended by the whole family. The mass always ended with the most famous Christmas song, Silent Night.
When the mass ended, everyone went back to their homes, only young men would stop to bring water from the creek for the morning, because it was believed that the water fetched on Christmas Day at midnight had healing powers. After coming home, everyone went to bed.
The following day, once again, the whole village went to the church, as it was the feast of the Nativity of Christ. The mass was early in the morning, at eight o’clock. Before that, however, people had to feed their domestic animals and milk the cows, so they had to get up early.
After the mass, they cooked a traditional “sour soup” with sauerkraut, smoked meat, potatoes and noodles. The soup was then served for the festive lunch on that day. Before the lunch, everyone said prayers. First course was the soup with noodles. The second course was the meat and potatoes which had been cooked in the soup.
On this day, people stayed at home and nobody worked. Before the evening, they fed the livestock and milked the cows again. In the evening, everyone went to church again for the solemn mass. At the mass, people sang many Christmas songs. After coming back home, they ate the leftover sour soup from lunch, sat together for a while, had some pastries and went to bed.
On the second day after Christmas Eve, the Saint Stephen’s Day, there was another mass in the morning. The lunch consisted of meat soup and dumplings with jam. After lunch, everyone went out, adults were chatting and kids were sledding and having fun. Christmas was completed with an evening mass.