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The Beginner's Guide to Czech Christmas Dinner

Published on December 24th, 2014 in Entertainment

  • Josef Lada - České vánoce, 1955 (photo courtesy of


The customs and superstitions surrounding the Czech Christmas meal are as plentiful as the potato salad and Christmas cookies served on December 24 (the day that Christmas is celebrated in the Czech Republic). These are just a few of the many traditions that I have observed during the Christmas meals I have enjoyed here; if you are blessed enough to spend this day with Czech family or friends, here's what to expect:


- Not necessarily a must, but many of my friends and colleagues tell me that their families use the traditional blue onion (cibulák) servingware on this festive occasion.


- Christmas dinner is a nine-course affair and typically includes fish soup, bread with honey, carp, potato salad, fruit, and, for dessert, vánočka, a braided Christmas bread that makes a fabulous French toast the next day!




Left: Traditional Christmas Carp with potatoe salad ( photo courtesy of  |  Right: Vánočka (photo courtesy of



- The bread serves a dual purpose: it is also said to help dislodge fish bones should a carp crisis arise (though I'm not sure this is very sound medical advice).


- Guests are expected to stay put through all of the courses; Czechs believe that the first person to get up will be the first among the group to die or fall ill during the New Year.


- The table is always set for an even number of diners, even if that means laying an extra place setting, as an odd number may bring bad luck.


- Coins (families start saving their loose change in autumn) are placed under each plate and, after the gift exchange, guests lift up their plates to reveal how much money they have received; the person who finds the most under his or her plate will earn the most money in the New Year!


- Because they resemble silver coins, dried carp scales are placed beneath the tablecloth. The scales represent good fortune in the year to come—many Czechs even keep them in their wallet as a good luck charm.


- A bell is placed on the table and rung just after the meal to announce the arrival of Ježíšek, the Czech equivalent of Santa Claus, who has sneaked in to deliver the gifts while everyone was eating.


- Even furry friends get in on the festivities: pets are fed after dinner so that no one goes hungry on Christmas which would be, you guessed it, bad luck.




Left: Fortune telling, apple-style (photo courtesy of  |  Right: Carp scales for luck (photo courtesy of



- In many families, fortunes are told at the table by slicing an apple in half crosswise. A star-shaped core means happiness and wealth, while a cross-shaped core means illness or worse.


- Of course it goes without saying, clean your plate! I could find no real explanation for this one other than that Czechs hate to waste food.


- A lesser-known tradition that I find quite lovely, though perhaps not very practical, is that you aren't supposed to turn on any lights until the first star comes out.


- And who could forget the golden pig? That's right, starve yourself all day and you will be rewarded by a vision of the mythical golden pig, a symbol of future prosperity for those who are lucky enough to spot it.

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Whether or not you manage to abide by all these rules—I find the starvation thing a bit much!—it is all part of the fun of a truly Czech Christmas experience.