Traditions, Values and Young People

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Christmas Customs in Slovakia

There are many holidays within the year, both religious and secular. We decided to look into Christmas traditions in our region, Podpol'anie. Some of them are internationally known, some of them are specific for the region. As you will see young people are still interested in the traditions and they take an active part in keeping them.

The holidays around Christmas are:
24th December - Christmas Eve
25th December - Christmas Day
26th December - Second Day of Christmas (St Stephen's)
31st December - New Year's Eve
1st January - New Year
6th January - Three Wise Men
end of February - Shrovetide (Carnival)

Most of the superstitions are connected with Christmas Eve. It starts with dinner when the first star lights in the sky. From generation to generation people have kept many traditions. At midnight many people visit midnight mass, where they pray and sing a popular Christmas song, Silent Night.

Symbols

An apple- when you cut an apple, the seeds in the shape of star symbolize health for the next year. If they are shaped to cross, it symbolizes a death in the family.

A very important part of Christmas table is the candle. Its straight flame means health and if it goes out it symbolizes that somebody will die in the family.

Some families use to put a chain around the table and chairs which will keep the family together for the next year.

Some families still have carp for dinner and put a scale under the cloth, which symbolizes wealth.

Betlehemci

From 24th to 26th of December (Christmas Eve to Stephen's Day), the so-called 'Betlehemci' start to visit the families with the gospel. They symbolize the shepherds who were the first people who saw and witnessed the birth of Jesus Christ.

On the day of St.Stephen young boys whip girls, but not very hard. It should guarantee strength and wealth for the next year. The boys and men are welcomed in the houses on that day, while girls and women are not, because it is supposed to bring bad luck.

Singing carols used to be one of the most popular Christmas pastimes. The word 'koleda' (carol) has several meanings:
1. the song sung during Christmas,
2. visiting the families,
3. the gifts that the singers are given by the families.
Nowadays young people visit families and sing carols to collect some money for charities. The carol singers usually bring various props, for example a model of the Bethlehem manger or the star.

carol singers

The Three Kings are also connected with this tradition; they are called Three Wise Men from the East. Young people dressed in the costumes of Three Wise Men visit families on 6th January and write 20-C+M+B-09 on the door frame, which means the particular year and the letters for 'Christus mansionem benedicat' (Christ may bless the dwelling). It can also mean the first letters of the name of the Three Wise Men: C = Caspar, 'master of treasure', M = Melchior, 'my king is the light'; B = Balthasar, 'protect his life'.