Christmas is a significant holiday in Slovakia and its celebration is accompanied by many regional traditions. Cities, towns, villages, and stores boast in beautiful Christmas decorations, Christmas trees, and Christmas lights weeks before Christmas. Decorated store windows draw customers and invite them to do Christmas shopping. A few days before Christmas, cities and towns hold Christmas markets where you can buy traditional Christmas wafers, drinks such as mead, Christmas ornaments, knickknacks, and various homemade products. Houses and apartments are decorated with real or artificial Christmas trees and Christmas decorations. People can buy real Christmas trees such as fir, spruce, or pine trees at local Christmas markets. People start decorating Christmas trees with sweets, ornaments, and Christmas lights several days before Christmas Eve. Hardly will you find a home without a Christmas tree at this time of the year. Slovaks always celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, December 24. Throughout the day kitchens are filled with aroma of baked goodies and Christmas dishes, and the last ornaments are being hung on the Christmas tree. In the evening, families gather around the Christmas table for dinner, the hallmark of the day.
At dinnertime, Christian families might say grace or sing carols. Christmas dinner varies according to the region of Slovakia. Typically a thin wafer (oplatka) with honey and sometimes garlic is served as a Christmas appetizer to secure good health of all family members throughout the upcoming year. It is also a custom to cut a piece of fruit, usually an apple, into as many pieces as there are family members. This custom is a symbol of family unity. The next course is soup- split pea soup, sauerkraut soup, mushroom soup, bean soup, lentil soup, or bean and lentil combo, according to the region. The main course consists of fried or baked fish-usually carp or trout- or fish fillet served with potato salad with mayonnaise. It is a tradition to buy a live carp, which can be purchased at stores only at Christmas time. After the main course opekance or pupaciky are served with poppy seed or farmer’s cheese. After dinner the family members exchange their gifts under the Christmas tree. For children this is the most favorite part of Christmas. Younger children believe it is Baby Jesus who brings them Christmas gifts. When they get older, they learn it is their parents and grandparents who buy them gifts. Nevertheless, you can still see a twinkle in their eyes when they unwrap their gifts. After dinner when all the gifts are open, families enjoy their time together and eat traditional desserts such as fruit, Christmas cookies, and various types of Christmas pastries. A typical Christmas pastry is called stedrak or folded pastry of several toppings: poppy filling, walnut filling, jelly, and farmer’s cheese.
Catholics start religious celebration of Christmas by attending Midnight Mass or they can attend mass the following day, which is called a Christmas Day. In Slovakia Christmas Day is also called the First Day of Christmas. The Second Day of Christmas is St. Stephen’s Day. On the First and the Second Day of Christmas, families relax and enjoy their time together and visit relatives and friends. Students are on Christmas break at this time. Young and old also like watching Christmas shows and movies, especially fairy tales. Many Slovaks spend Christmas and the period between Christmas and New Year’s Day at mountain resorts.