Preparations start early in Advent with buying nuts, poppy seed, flour and everything necessary for the Christmas baking. A few days before Christmas the women of the household start baking the pastries.
Christmas Eve is a day full of activities in the Slovak homes. The house has to be cleaned and in the afternoon mothers are found to prepare the Holy Supper as everyone at home usually go on a fast during the day. Our parents used to put straw under the table to represent the Manger where the Jesus Child was born. The table is covered with a clean cloth and set.
The Christmas Eve varied from village to village even from home to home. The meal is always meatless. In Catholic homes the supper starts with a prayer and the breaking of the Christmas wafers. The clinking of glasses of homemade wine and wishes of Merry Christmas are followed.
The table is loaded with steaming bowls of food that will be eaten during the evening. We start with mentioned wafers which are followed by honey and garlic to be healthy during the coming year. Next course is soup made from sauerkraut and then we eat “bobalky”. They are small baked balls covered with sweet crushed poppy. Then we continue with fish, fried or baked, and potato salad.
Slovak table at Christmas
In some Slovak families, the head of the household traces the sign of the cross on the foreheads of the children in honey. This is a wish for a sweet New Year as well as a sweet disposition. During the supper, no one is permitted to leave the table so it is thought that someone would not be present there during the coming year.
When the meal is completed, the dishes are cleared away but the pastries, nuts, candies and fruit are left on the table for any visitors even for the visitors from the other world who died.
So and after the Christmas supper the whole family goes to unpack the Christmas presents which are under the decorated Christmas tree. They sing Christmas carols and at midnight they go to church.
Next day it is Christmas Day which is spent by visiting of relatives and enjoying the atmosphere of Christmas. What the British call Boxing Day we call St. Steve's Day when the first ball is organized.
New Year's Eve is celebrated in Slovakia mostly with friends at home, in some restaurants or in the mountains where people go skiing. Definitely Christmas time is considered as the biggest family holiday time.
The family decorate trees on the holy night in immediate families. Christmas is a private, family holiday in Hungary, we don't go to parties. Most families decorate the tree together, but some families keep the older tradition that tree should be a surprise for chidren who even believe it was bought by angels. Children enter the room only when the small tree bells ring and music arises. Gifts lay around the tree with small labels saying the name of someone in the family. Family-members sing Christmas songs together, then open their gifts and spend the night together. In the 2 days of Christmas big families meet, often travelling to another town, or maybe very close friends visit each other. But these days are private days of our rush lives. We stop for 2 days and turn to people we love the most. Christmas is the holiday of love and heart.
Traditional Hungarian Beigli