Today's Mailbox includes: Topics: Christmas greetings. Pen pals. Christmas customs. Quotes from: Anele Chidiebere, Sheila Hughes, Mauro Bertini, Annabel Grieco, Brad Wilson.

Welcome to Mailbox on this 22nd of December, just two days before Christmas Eve, which, as most listeners probably know from previous programs, is the most important part of Christmas in the Czech family.

And Christmas in general is the most important Czech holiday, we'll devote today's Mailbox to Czech Christmas customs.

Those of you who have access to the Internet may already be familiar with them as we have quite an extensive page on our website, which you can find at www.radio.cz/english .

Before we continue, we would like to thank all of you, on behalf of the Radio Prague team, who sent us Christmas cards and Christmas wishes. Our mail is full of season's greetings and it truly is heart warming to see how many of you think of us during this time of the year.

We can't possibly name all the listeners who have sent them, but it's wonderful to see that they do come from practically all over the world. Besides the United States, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand, the countries where we have the most listeners, there's, for example, this message from Anele Chidiebere in Jos Plateau state, Nigeria:

"Compliment of the season. I am a regular listener to your station and I am particularly impressed by the programmes. I want to use this opportunity to wish you a very happy Christmas and a prosperous new year."

They're all in the same spirit. Sheila Hughes, from Surrey, England writes:

"I enclosed a Christmas card, which comes to you with my very best wishes and as a small token of my appreciation for all the interesting and enjoyable programmes which I have heard on your station throughout the year. The sending of Christmas Greetings at this time of year I think is another way of expressing the international friendship aspects of the radio hobby."

And extending that international friendship aspect of the radio hobby to one particular person would certainly be a wonderful gift at this time of the year as no gift is more important than the atmosphere of Christmas, the understanding and good will connected with the holiday. Mauro Bertini, who listens to Radio Prague in Lucca, Italy wrote to Radio Prague asking the following favour:

"I am a 35 year old Italian invalid man. I am writing to your station, because I'd like to make friends with your listeners, if it's possible. I have very few friends and would be grateful to receive some mail."

If you do have the time to drop a line to Mr Bertini in Italy - his full name is Mauro Bertini - write to him at Via Vendoia 3, Valdottavo 55067, Lucca, Italy. And if you didn't catch that, you can find the address and this whole program, on Radio Prague's web-site, that's www.radio.cz/english.

Or, we'll gladly send Mauro's address to you, if you contact us by e-mail on english@radio.cz, or at our postal address: Radio Prague, Prague 2, 120 99, Czech Republic.

Vanocni hudba

Celebrating Christmas Eve is an old tradition, dating back to the original Christian Christmas atmosphere, when the holiday was really dedicated to the anniversary of the birth of the Infant Jesus. In the religious tradition, the 24th was a day of fasting, and the family only sat down to a special, big meal in the evening.

That tradition still exists - but only in words, children are told that if they won't eat throughout the day, they'll see a golden piglet in the evening.

Yes. As a child, though, that never kept me from eating. I was more interested in the tree, especially what was under it. I mean the gifts. So, I never got to see the golden piglet...

But the Christmas Eve meal always has been worth the wait. Today, it's really huge, much bigger than it used to be. True, there used to be 9 courses at the Christmas Eve table, but those were not dishes we'd consider adequate - one was a special porridge with dried fruit, another a thin wafer with honey. What we consider typical nowadays, fried carp, only started appearing on the Christmas Eve menu in the 19th Century.

That brings us to a letter from Annabel Grieco from New Zealand who writes:

"I visited the Czech Republic, South Moravia to be precise, a few years ago to see a former exchange student I met here in New Zealand. I was on a trip around Central and Eastern Europe and stopped at her home just before Christmas. It was the first week in December and all her female relatives were so busy preparing for Christmas that they didn't really have any time to show me around. Not that I'm complaining but I have never seen any other nation prepare so much for the holidays. They cleaned all day long to make their homes spotless and even spent several days baking Christmas cookies. I must say, I was very impressed."

It is true that as soon as we enter the last month of the year, the female Czech population suddenly gets nervous and topic number one becomes cookies and presents.

Talking about the cookies, I don't think I have met anyone who doesn't have a relative who turns into a cookie factory, supplying each member of the family with several cartons full of cookies.

They are one of a kind. While Czech cakes, in my opinion, are a little too creamy, the Christmas cookies are to die for. I think this is where everyone will be able to find a kind that they love.

I don't like the most popular type, the vanilla rolls, but prefer the chocolate cookies.

My favourite are the Linzer cookies, they are the one's filled with marmalade. I guess they are Austrian but the Czechs surely make them better...

Well, those of you who have access to our web site, try to bake them yourself according to the recipe we provide.

And there is also the Czech "Vanocka", which will always be a popular bread during Christmas. The first reference to it was in the 16th century. Today, Czechs bake it at home as it's actually quite easy to make and is very tasty.

Okay. Let's move away from food to another favourite of mine - money. Brad Wilson somewhere in cyberspace asks:

"Have you got any wacky Christmas custom that is to make you rich the next year? I have been trying out my own family tradition but it doesn't seem to work. What would you recommend?"

There are quite a few of them. Since our main Christmas meal is carp, a Czech custom is to keep one of the carp's scales in your wallet.

Another custom is to put some money under your plate while you're having your Christmas Eve meal. Since I didn't want a smelly wallet, I tried this one but it didn't work.

Well, no pain no gain so suffer through the smell of the scale in your wallet and see what happens. Or wait until New Years Day and eat lentils. That, Czechs believe, will bring in lots of money as well.

And we'll end on this note. Once more, thank you for all your Christmas cards and greetings, for your words of appreciation - and from us, Dita Asiedu

And Martin Hrobsky.

As well as from the entire Radio Prague team, all the best and have a wonderful Christmas!