(Jingle bells, jingle bells,
who gave you a voice?
Little Merry Andrew
or Grandfather Frost?
Jingle bells, jingle bells,
what rings inside of you?
Christmas, and snow!)
- translation of Czech "Jingle Bells"
The Czech Christmas is celebrated on the 24th of December, not the 25th. My beloved family was a very long, sad distance away all the way over in beautiful Michigan. And just LOOK what the Czechs have done to old, faithful "Jingle Bells." There ain't no "jingling all the way" in these parts.
To make matters worse, my best Czech friend - Klára Sigmundová - had left town a week earlier to go work in Andorra. Was I going to be able to adapt to this strange, foreign Christmas on my own?
I began by waking up late.
My smily-drunken-bear friend, Pavel, greeted me with a still-inebriated, merry-red smile. "Merry Christmas!" he yelled humorously ironically. He'd slept over the night before, because he couldn't walk home after our post-bar bottle of wine. "Merry Christmas! Ciao!" I yelled.
A twenty-four-year-old fellow English teacher, Vera Kolinová, had invited me to spend a Czech Christmas with her family. So, while I would be bummed about not being with my family, at least I would get to experience my first new Christmas traditions since "Riding the Christmas Pig" in Argentina.
Nice people picked me up as I hitchhiked on Christmas day.
Black-haired, beard-stubbled, fat-skinned Roman and his light-freckled, blond-stranded, five-year-old son Bart were my first cute drivers. Roman played in a hard rock band. Bart looked like a girl and hung over me from the backseat as he talked with us. Bart must've been used to being called a girl. One time - unprovoked from anything I said - he cutely angrily yelled, "Já nejsem holka, jsem chlap!" (I'm not a girl, I'm a boy!)
A warm and open guy who'd become a father two days earlier took me to Vera's town: Krnov.
Vera reminds me of America in that she's a sexily-not-really-thin girl who isn't too modest to laugh really, really big at everything. Her big, gray-haired, moustachioed father reminded me of my grandfather in that all he ever wanted to do was fish. He told me jokes in Czech and chuckled. He's happily married to a mouse-y lady who did all the diligent cooking.
These three accepted me like family and were in wonderful spirits. The father and mother owned a construction company.
At six-thirty p.m., the Kolinová family (including Vera's quiet brother, Filip) and I sat down to Christmas dinner. The table was fancy. Was I ready for the strange new customs?
You bet I was. It doesn't matter if you're Czech or Indonesian, if you put something in front of me, I'll eat it: unless it's the Christmas Pig, which I'll ride.
Vera's mom put in front of us: champagne and a preserved plum. Then, she dipped her finger in honey and made a cross on everyone's forehead. She served out the traditional Czech Christmas dinner: thick and delicious fish soup; followed by potato salad mixed with pickles; and carp, battered or fried, sometimes with bacon and cheese. The father, Jirka, proudly let me know he'd caught the carp. We also sampled two sweet, syrupy homemade liquors made from cherries or alternatively with eggs.
Mmm, mmm. I like Czech Christmas dinners.
We opened presents around the Christmas tree that hadn't been decorated 'til that morning. I got the hits-like-a-bulldozer Czech liquor, "slivovice." Vera got a lot of clothes and whooped big each time. Young Filip had only wanted pots and pans and such for the apartment he shares with his girlfriend. Jirka received a shirt from Filip which read (translated), "FISHING brings a satisfied marriage," and he chuckled and immediately put it on.
I stayed with the Kolinova's a day and a half more, and Jirka didn't take off that shirt the whole time.
The next day, we went to Vera's half-sister's house and ate: a preserved apricot, noodle-and-dumpling soup, mushy potato circles, cabbage, red onions, a chunk of ham, and an animal's leg the shape of a chicken's but the size of a pig's. Maybe that's why we didn't ride the Christmas Pig.
(In all honesty, there is the tradition in the Czech Republic that if you don't eat all Christmas before Christmas dinner, then you'll see a golden pig.)
Oh! And I forgot to tell you about the Christmas cookies. Each Czech family bakes its own in the weeks before Christmas. The Kolinová's had: powdery moon-shaped cookies; black fudgy balls with chocolate sprinkles; star-shaped cookies sandwiches; and volcano-shaped cookies with chocolate tops and creamy insides. Mmm.
And finally, I must remind that "Krnov je raj" (Krnov is paradise), home to one of the best nighclubs. The Koffola Music Club once again played funky and Czech national music, and everyone danced. Vera's purple eyes and zapping blond Sharka's emerald eyes made the scenery as good as the sound.
The Czech Christmas isn't too tough to adapt to. I kissed round-faced Jana at the right moment outside in the Krnov cold.
"What rings inside of you? Mother's songs, Christmas, and snow-oh!"
Merry Christmas! Justin
Thanks to Roman & Bart; Alesh; Robert & Adam; and Andra for the rides!
Much thanks to Vera, maminka, & Jirka for having me over!