New exhibition displays festive traditions of Czech Republic’s minorities

18-12-2007

What do you associate with a Czech Christmas? Carp and potato salad, maybe? Advent wreaths perhaps? Or maybe those festive markets selling mulled wine and gingerbread? Well, now there is a new exhibition which aims to present some of the Czech Republic’s slightly less well-known Christmas traditions. Namely, the festive customs of the country’s minorities. The exhibition, titled ‘Rozlicny cas vanocni’ (‘Various Christmas Traditions’), has just opened in Prague's Hrzansky palac.

Hrzansky palac, photo: CTKHrzansky palac, photo: CTK ‘Various Christmas Traditions’ shows the ways in which minority groups living in the Czech Republic celebrate Christmas. Its curator, Hana Berankova, gave me a tour:

“The Czech Republic’s Hungarian minority celebrate Christmas much as Czechs do. But there is one notable difference, namely that Hungarians decorate their Christmas table with a bundle of corn; that is something that other Slavic nations do too, but at Easter time. So that’s the biggest difference between a Hungarian and a Czech Christmas.”

From the Hungarian display - with its pretty red and white embroidery, and its Christmas decorations made out of walnut shells - onto the Russian stand, which boasts a gleaming set of painted wooden shot-glasses… and a mirror. Hana Berankova explains:

“You find a mirror in the Russian display case because unmarried Russian women believe that if they look for a long time into a mirror on Christmas Eve, then they will catch a glimpse of their future husband.”

Despite the sizeable American and English expat communities living in the Czech Republic today, neither group is represented at the exhibition. I asked Mrs. Berankova about her selection procedure:

“We chose minorities which have been living on Czech soil for several generations. We chose ethnic groups which had historic roots here. So that meant that we included the German minority, which up until recent times was relatively large here. And then we chose the biggest minorities living in the country today: Slovaks, Ukrainians, Russians and Polish. We included the Jewish minority for the traditional place that they occupied in Czech society, and of course we represented the Roma too.”

The Slovak display consists of one nativity scene which wouldn’t look out of place in any Czech home. Is there really any difference between a Czech and Slovak Christmas?

“Slovak Christmas is not all that unlike Czech Christmas. But then it is important to add that Slovak Christmas traditions vary from region to region. And this exhibition doesn’t aim to show every single regional variation upon Christmas traditions - because obviously there are hundreds of them, even here in the Czech Republic, between this town and that. These small differences didn’t matter to us so much, because after all, the essence of Christmas is the same all over.”

The exhibition is on at the Hrzansky palac in Prague’s Mala Strana - and catch it while you can, because it only lasts until Thursday December 20.

18-12-2007