Opinion

Czech Christmas, or the holidays of God, without God

Published: 22. 12. 2021
Author: Zbigniew Czendlik
Photo: Photo Shutterstock.com and archives of Zbigniew Czendlik
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Few countries boast such romantic and poetic Christmas holidays as does the Czech Republic. Just the fact that Christmas Eve is a bank holiday here as opposed to some other countries goes to show how much significance this time of year holds for the Czech people.

The holiday cheer permeates the country through and through. Even if the given Christmas does not come with a cover of white, tableaus of snow-covered houses, and children playing outside such as those in Josef Lada's pictures, it can bring about this atmosphere without fail.

TV and fried carp

A certain kind of anticipation can already be felt during the day leading up to Christmas Eve, amplified in many households by ongoing Christmas tree decorating and children bouncing up and down, impatiently waiting for Day D to come. First thing on the morning of December 24th, TV screens bring the Christmas atmosphere by broadcasting fairytale movies, of which there are plenty to be seen on this day. The Czech classics are ubiquitous – S Čerty Nejsou Žerty (Give the Devil His Due), Tři Oříšky Pro Popelku (Three Wishes for Cinderella), Pyšná Princezna (The Proud Princess), and others, as well as the Soviet Morozko (Father Frost) or other fairytales from abroad. Christmas Eve itself always goes hand in hand with a walk outside, the sound of carols, and the cooking of fried carp or schnitzels and potato salad. Then comes Christmas Eve dinner itself, unwrapping presents by the tree, the usual rerun of Pelíšky (Cozy Dens), best followed by a romantic American movie (Pretty Woman, most likely) and there goes Christmas Eve. Christmas Day usually follows a similar pattern.

All of this to me radiates a sense of peace and quiet. Holidays as they should be. But the more I think about it, the more I get a feeling that something is missing… But of course, it is not something but someone! The one being celebrated!

A taxing search

I keep searching for more substance to Christmas, but it is rough going. Over time, I have come to think of the Christmas holidays as a celebration of the Christmas tree, potato salad, or fried carp. A Christmas tale that resonates with me, that of our Savior, the birth of the child of God, has been replaced by ones that resonate with other people even more – fairytales about princes and princesses. During this holiday season, the media talks more of slaughtering carp, the amount of potato salad that has been consumed, or perhaps the average that Czech households have spent on Christmas presents, rather than Baby Jesus or the peaceful Star of Bethlehem. Thus, finding the true substance of Christmas in all this is just as difficult as finding a beautiful nativity scene on the markets leading up to the holidays.

Are the people of this country not interested in the story of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth? Does this story not hold enough allure for them?

Angel of the Lord

But it is not so after all! I was convinced that the desire for a true Christmas story still exists by the director, Jirka Strach, and the movie Anděl Páně (An Angel of the Lord). It has become an absolute hallmark, viewed by more than 3 million people on Christmas Eve in 2017. This immense number is, to me, the proof of a great – and oftentimes subconscious – longing for God, Jesus, angels, Heaven… A movie like that could never be made in a traditionally catholic country. And if it were, the director would be burned at the stake alongside his movie. The evidence used in this case would be the fact that Anděl Páně belittles Christianity and devalues Christmas. That I could agree with in a sense. The fact of the matter is that Christmas has already lost its value way back during the Communist era of normalization, whereas this comedy has given the status of a fairytale to a story about Christmas! And thank God for that! People here love fairytales, and so through this story of angels, they will learn to love the one about the birth of the Lord.

Whether we believe in Baby Jesus or it is just another fairytale to us, whether we believe in God or not, is immaterial. What matters is that we live and also experience this year's holidays so that God believes in us, so that God does not become an atheist, and so that Baby Jesus does not lose faith in humanity and the fact that humans still exist.

Wishes

To not insult anyone, I will send my wishes to the characters from a nativity scene, not specific people.

To the oxen, may they not scream at everyone around them at the top of their lungs. To the donkeys, may they not be hard-headed and dense. To the sheep, may they not blindly follow the first shepherd that promises improvement. To the shepherds, may they understand that the sheep are not as dumb as they seem. To the angels, may they fly less up above and walk among us here on Earth a little more. To the kings, may they not be left naked, clutching only their crowns. And to baby Jesus and the holy family, may they find a warm place in the hearts of people, even should it sometimes resemble a pigsty.

CV BOX

Zbigniew Jan Czendlik (born September 6, 1964, in Brenna, Poland) is a Roman Catholic priest of Polish descent working in Czechia, and the dean of Lanškroun. He is incardinated in the Katowice archdiocese.

He studied the faculty of theology in Katowice and Warsaw, and he was ordained as a priest in 1989. Three years later he was sent to Czechia.

In 2005 he launched a children’s home in Žichlínek. He was named a dean in 2008.

#He is the benefactor of a dog shelter as well as an active sportsman.

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