Slovaks and Christmas Traditions
Christmas Eve (24th December) is linked in the minds of Slovak people with a large number
of traditions. For example, whatever one did on that day, one would do all the year round.
The ritual lighting of the fire used to be a widespread practice observed by all Europeans. The
Christmas fire was considered sacred and later it was replaced by burning of candles as a memory of
near ones no longer with us. The trees were traditionally decorated (in addition to the candles) with
fruits (apples), home made Christmas decorations (wood or carvings), baked goods made with honey
in the form of Angels and other religious symbols and candies. The Christmas tree was kept until 6th
of January (feast of the Three Kings) at which time the kids were allowed to finally have the candies
and other sweets from the tree.
The harmony of the evening feast and festivities was completed by folk nativity scenes with figures
made of carved wood and paper or water- colour paintings on paper. The oldest are from the second
half of the 18th century.
At Christmas time, carol singers carried these nativity scenes from cottage to cottage, while other
larger ones were part of the festive decoration of the homes.
As is the custom among other nations, Slovaks celebrate Christmas with music and singing. Carols are
sung in the family circle, which come from the tradition of carol singing from door to door, which was
popular in the towns and villages of days past. Carols were originally a musical wish for health,
happiness and blessings of the occupants of the dwellings. In this way, many folk carols came to be
part of the religious festival today associated with Christmas.
The pastorales (a musical composition in a soft, rural style) are performed during Advent season and
today are on the programmes of Christmas concerts throughout Slovakia. Christmas time to Slovak
people is a very special time of the year, a time when they experience something soothing and
beneficial, something that releases them from the grip of everyday life. When the Christmas tree is
light, some of the almost forgotten customs and rites of their ancestors come to life once more, their
thoughts return to their family friends and to love.
The Slovak words for Christmas Eve are literally "bountiful eve" and the bounty of this sacred
evening lies in the wide range of festive dishes, of which there had to be twelve different kinds. Even
today many Slovak families must have on the Christmas table garlic (to ward off demons), honey,
wafers, nuts, dried fruit, and the main dish, cabbage soup with mushrooms and "opekance" - small
pieces of dough - with poppy seed and honey. Fish has become the traditional meat served during
Christmas Eve (their scales are said to bring wealth into the house). Christmas holidays are also very
rich in Slovak pastries and baked goods that are prepared over many evenings during the month of
The start of our Traditional Christmas eve meal was always Oplatky, or Bread of Love, a thin wafer
stamped with a Christmas scene and served with honey spread upon the wafer sheet. Each of us
offered a piece of the wafer to all others sitting at the table wishing the other "Merry Christmas" and
a "Happy New Year". The symbolism of sharing the wafer to everyone back and forth was to
symbolize giving and sharing in our lives.
Oplatky is followed by sauerkraut soup with mushrooms that is followed with Fish and potato salad.
At the Christmas table we keep one place more with cutlery, plates, and a napkin. It has more
reasons: For our dead relative, or for a hungry or homeless. All we eat we also put in the plate. We
put money under the plates (to be rich all the year round) and also throw walnuts into the corners of
the room or cut an apple in the middle to have a star from its cores to insure good luck for the
The meal was made from what was available to people in the old country. The order in which the
courses were served signified life, remember, honey on wafer, sour potatoes and fish, then pastries,
sweet, sour, sweet.....that is the order of life.