Christmas in the Czech Republic is celebrated on Christmas Eve, December 24 when the Christmas tree is traditionally decorated and the whole family gathers for a festive dinner.
In the old days, Christmas Eve used to be a fasting day. During the day people would not eat any food but in the evening they would have a big dinner with rich varieties of traditional dishes. Some people still follow this tradition. Nowadays, the festive dinner still consists of dishes that have symbolic meaning back in the old times. For instance, the tradition of eating legumes would conduce to family wealth.
On Christmas Day on December 25th and St. Stephen’s Day on December 26th people do not have to follow any strict festive traditions as on Christmas Eve. The choice of meals on these days is highly varied due to different family traditions. For example, on St. Stephen’s Day, many families serve roast turkey, goose, or duck on their dinner table.
Today’s Czech Christmas dinner typically starts with a fish soup, continues with a fried Christmas carp served with potato salad, and finishes with the traditional pastry- Vánočka. We have added to the article some Christmas recipes in case you would like to incorporate a little Czech taste to your holiday menu this year.
Rybí polévka or Fish Soup
Soup is one of the most important meals in the Christmas menu as it is starting the festive dinner. Traditional soup is typically made of fish with a hearty dose of vegetables and spices.
In the old days, those who only eat a fish soup during the fasting day on Christmas Eve until dinner might see a golden piglet. Seeing the piglet is a Christmas Miracle that, as believed, brings good luck in the upcoming year.
400g Carp meat
2 Celery stalks
3 Bay leaves
1 pinch Saffron
1 bunch finely chopped Parsley
Boil the carp over high heat, then reduce the heat, remove the resulting foam. Once the fish is cooked, turn off the heat and take the carp out of the broth. Break the fish fillet into small flakes and strain the broth.
Finely chop the onion, celery, and capsicum. Heat the butter in a frying pan and gently fry vegetables until it is soft. Add rice, bay leaves, and hot fish stock. Simmer until rice is tender then add a zest of a lemon and the fish flakes. As a final step, add a pinch of saffron, freshly chopped parsley, a sprinkle of sea salt flakes, and a grind of black pepper according to your taste.
Customize according to your taste
You can use a grated kumara instead of rice, or try a mix of artichoke, fennel bulb, or leek. Instead of onion use celery and capsicum. Add spices like lime leaves, chili, lemongrass, and ginger. Shred some fresh greens such as kale or coriander into the soup. You can also garnish each bowl with half a soft-boiled egg if liked.
Český kapr or Carp
Fried carp is the star of the Czech Christmas table! This local delicacy brings not only a great taste to the menu, but also the charm of its unique tradition. Usually, Czechs buy their fish before Christmas from the Christmas markets and keep it in the tub until it’s time to prepare the dish. As you could imagine, this provides great entertainment for children and adults alike!
Just like the golden pig, the carp gives Czech people another chance for good luck and fortune in the New Year. All you have to do is to take a fish scale, dry it, and keep it in your purse until next year.
4 tbsp olive oil
1 diced large onion
2 finely chopped sticks celery
200g coarsely grated carrot
100g coarsely grated parsnip
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
3 tbsp tomato purée
½ tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp allspice berries
2 bay leaves
2 carp fillets
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp dill
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until slightly softened. Add the celery, carrot, parsnip, and parsley with seasoning. Cook and stir regularly, for about 15 minutes until very soft. Add the tomato puree, paprika, some water with the passata, allspice berries, and bay leaves. Cook for another 20 minutes. The souse should be thick and the vegetables should all be very soft.
Season the fish fillets and dust with flour. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Fry the fillets skin side down for 4-5 minutes. Then flip the fish over and continue to cook for 2 minutes until the fillets are golden. Squeeze over half the lemon juice. When serving, add most of the dill leaves to the sauce. Use the rest of it for the garnish. Add remaining lemon juice and season to taste.
Before we move on to the dessert, we want to mention another Czech Christmas tradition. Sometime after the main course, Czech’s version of Santa Claus, Ježíšek, literally translated as “Little Jesus” comes. He brings presents under the tree and rings a bell before mysteriously leaving. Czech people traditionally open presents after dinner. This is another Christmas miracle that makes children to patiently wait for the end of the dinner!
Vánočka or Christmas Bread
An essential sweet of the festive table is vánočka – a braided cake-bread made with raisins and almonds. It got its name from Vánoce which means “Christmas” in Czech. It also can be a traditional breakfast for many on Christmas Eve!
300 ml of milk
150g granulated sugar
3 tsp active dry yeast
580g all-purpose flour
1⁄2 tsp salt
1 lemon for zest
2 egg yolks
115g melted unsalted butter
30g sliced almonds
Mix butter, sugar, and salt with scalded milk. Stir yeast and warm water in the bowl until dissolved. Add eggs to the milk mixture and combine. Add half of the flour and beat with the paddle until smooth. Add the raisins, almonds, lemon zest, and remaining flour. Mix for a few minutes until smooth. The dough should be sticky. Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Leave is for about 1 hour. It should rise until double.
Put the dough onto a lightly floured board. Divide it into 3 large pieces. Roll each piece into the same size rope. On a baking sheet, braid the 3 pieces loosely and pinch ends together. Cover with a greased plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour in a warm place. Heat oven to 200 C. Cover the loaf with the egg and sprinkle with almonds. Bake 15 minutes, reduce heat to 180 C and bake 30 – 40 minutes. Let cool completely then dust with powdered sugar before slicing.