When you say Christmas in Slovakia

The Slovak word for Christmas has no mention of Christ in its name, although for many Slovaks it is a religious festival celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. The Slovak Vianoce is similar to the Czech Vánoce, which is believed to have evolved from the German word Weihnachten, meaning ‘holy night’.

The face of our Vianoce has changed since the communist regime fell in the former Czechoslovakia. Before that, it was the Russian-style Dedo Mráz (Grandfather Frost) and his granddaughter Snehulienka (Snow Maiden) who would travel around Slovak schools and kindergartens to give away presents. In their homes though, Slovak children would still expect Ježiško (Baby Jesus) to leave them gifts under the Christmas tree.

dedo mraz
Dedo Mráz and Snehulienka giving away little gifts in 1977. Source: anc

Slovak Ježiško was legalized when the Communist Party had lost its political power and control over the media in November 1989. Our borders opened to the west again after 40 years, and we could go to see what lay behind the ‘iron curtain’. The small Austrian towns just across the border from Bratislava were the first to receive the rush of curious Slovak tourists.

The splendid Christmas markets in Vienna, which were so easy to reach by car or bus now, became a must-see attraction for travel deprived Slovaks. A few years later we saw the first Christmas market in the capital city of Bratislava, with other Slovak towns and villages following suit.

Most of our Christmas markets last during the entire season of Advent, which involves four Sundays before Christmas. Street stalls selling punch, mulled wine, mead and hot chocolate are getting very popular with tourists visiting Slovakia at this time of year.

Christmas market Bratislava 1
Christmas markets in Bratislava have become a popular tourist attraction. Photo by Marek Kríž.

What makes our Christmas markets special is the traditional Slovak food, like lokše (a kind of potato pancakes) filled with sweet or savoury fillings, cigánska pečienka (roast pork or chicken steaks), smoked sausages, strudels, poppy seed rolls, grilled cheese or kapustnica (thick sauerkraut soup).

Christmas market Žilina
Cigánska pečienka, grilled sausages and cheese are in great demand at Christmas markets in Žilina.

Some stalls are rented by charity organization which use their takings to support the sick, disadvantaged or disabled. Others showcase the artwork of artisans selling painted ceramics, wooden toys, beautiful handmade embroidery or decorated gingerbread.

Christmas honey cookies
A stall with gingerbread hearts at Christmas markets in Žilina.

When you say Christmas in Slovakia, it also means ice-skating in the streets, even though temperatures may be above the freezing point. In some towns and cities they will lend you a pair of ice skates for a small fee.

Christmas in Bratislava
Skating in the festive streets of Bratislava. Photo by Marek Kríž.

Ideally, we’ll have some real snow on the streets and still more in the countryside for the Christmas atmosphere to be complete. That is what most Slovaks, and definitely all our children, wish for during the school holidays.

Veselé Vianoce or Merry Christmas to everyone!

 

9 thoughts on “When you say Christmas in Slovakia

  1. Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year 2020. Wishing everyone a healthy happy new year God bless us everyone !!!

    Wesołych Świąt i bardzo szczęśliwego Nowego Roku 2020. Życząc wszystkim zdrowego szczęśliwego nowego roku Niech nas Bóg pobłogosławi !!!

    Kuba

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Went to Slovakia in August and met relatives I did not know I had!! In my dad”s village I had the best sauerkraut with mushrooms soup😊 we use to eat it for Christmas eve when I was a kid in NY. I said I would make it here but will be traveling. Did get your book in Slovakia, in Bratislava😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great to hear this, Irene! We always make Kapustnica (the sauerkraut soup you mention) for Christmas dinner, and we do eat it on Christmas Eve, as it is when Slovak Vianoce starts. I’m glad you managed to find the book, (by the way, there two of them now and the third one in progress, which will also have a recipe for Kapustnica). 🙂

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  3. Jarmila,

    Thank you for all your great recipes and cultural information.

    Our maternal grandparents emigrated to Boston, USA in 1905 from the village of Kuty (Austrio-Hungarian Empire) now Slovakia at the Czech/Slovak border.

    I’ve been able to visit Slovakia about ten times and apologize for my lack of knowledge of the language. (My Mom and her siblings would speak in Slovak when they didn’t want us to know what they were saying… at least that’s what we thought.)

    Thankfully, we are still in contact with distant cousins who live in Kobyli, CZ. I visited them last in January 2019 and some visited me this summer with more arriving in September.

    I just emailed them to look for your books as I was unable to find them here.

    Keep up the great work.

    Na zdravie!

    Dan Flynn
    Plainville, Massachusetts, USA

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, Dan, for your encouragement and positive feedback. It makes all my efforts worthwhile. I love hearing from people with their childhood memories and interesting recipes from the past. As for the books, I’m trying to make them available again through National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. If you know about other places that would like to sell the books, please e-mail me at cookslovak@gmail.com.
    Vsetko dobre v Novom roku praje,
    Jarmila H.

    Like

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