Our Very Own Czech Christmas

Our Christmas this year was spent at home.  Jakub is already old enough to understand and remember, so we decided to make it a semi-traditional one.

On Christmas morning, Jakub and my husband helped me set up the table. They made this traditional Christmas decor to adorn the table.

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One of the traditions here in Czech during Christmas is the consumption of dried fruit preserves.  And guess what? It can also be used as a decoration.  I am not really sure about the meaning of this, but it’s supposed to symbolize the world.  (Although it looks like a spaceship to me.)

In the Philippines, Christmas involves heavy meals with an abundance of food all throughout the day.  Needless to say, it is one of those times when it’s ok to pig out.  But here in Czech, people fast prior to dinner with the belief that one is eventually rewarded with the sighting of a golden pig.  You can read more about it here.

This is the part of the Christmas tradition that I don’t like.  To keep up with tradition, we only had fruits for lunch.  By 3pm,  Jakub got so hungry he would eat anything.  It was quite funny that he kept asking me:  “what’s that, Mom? Can I have it?”  He would eat onion if I let him.    Thus, to end our misery, we ended up having dinner around 4pm , just after sunset.

Another tradition is to eat fish, usually carp, at dinnertime.  In our case, we had carp soup  which my husband made.  I’m not a very big fan of fish soups, but it was pretty tasty.

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But our main course was salmon.  I don’t like carp that much, so Salmon was a compromise.  At least it’s still fish.

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A very significant difference in tradition is that Czechs believe that Little Jesus brings the gifts, not Santa. But since we are a multi-cultural household, Santa is still a part of our Christmas story.

It was quite difficult to make the Santa story work since we didn’t have a fireplace.  So, I made up a story that Santa got sick and told Little Jesus to bring Jakub’s gifts for him.    Jakub bought it.  After all, he is only 3.  Still very young and impressionable.  He had a grand time opening his gifts from Little Jesus and Santa.

Even my little daughter was very cooperative.  She allowed all of us to have a decent family dinner and was just watching us from her rocker.  She just recently started to smile which really charms me and made me forget all the hardships we’ve been through.

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and here’s another priceless moment…

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Everything went very well and it left all of us happy and satisfied.

I hope yours was great as well.  Best wishes for the coming year!

“Čas na Pivo” (Time for Beer)

There are only a few residents in my little community, but it is not without a pub. A pub is a very important part of a Czech settlement, because it is the home of the beer. And for those of you who are new to Czech and would like to meet a few people, it is the best place to go.

One day, as my 3-year-old son and I were walking, he tried to drag me to the direction of the pub and told me: “Mommy, Čas na pivo” (time for beer). I was taken aback by this gesture and was thinking to myself: “where did he learn that phrase?” But it really doesn’t matter. He could’ve easily picked it up from the people around him. It just goes to show that beer is an integral part of Czech culture. Even a 3-year-old knows it.

Playing with an empty beer bottle during our first few days here.
Playing with an empty beer bottle during our first few days here.

In my opinion, there are 2 basic food items in this world that Czechs can’t live without: bread (chleba) and beer (pivo). I know this because if I don’t have these things at home, my Czech husband gets into a bad mood. I have learned my lesson. I need to have a steady supply of bread and beer at my home to prevent any unpleasant mood swings.

During our big move from the US to Czech, we stopped by Brussels for 2 days to do a little sightseeing and slightly recover from the jetlag. Guess what my husband ordered in a Belgian restaurant. That’s right, a beer sampler.

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This fondness for beer is not only with men but also with women too. Beers come in different varieties, alcohol strength, and raw material source. And to cater to everyone’s “needs,” a beer can also be non-alcoholic. Inasmuch as Czechs like alcoholic beverages, there is a zero tolerance limit of alcohol for drivers in this country. Thus, brewers have to come up with this non-alcoholic variety.

Before meeting my husband, I never liked beer. When we were still living in the States, and had parties with friends, I would drink it just to have something to drink. But now that we are here in the Czech Republic, and I have been introduced to all different kinds of beers, there is a growing fondness for beer in my palate. Thankfully, they have the non-alcoholic variety, so I can still enjoy it even now that I’m pregnant.

If you are Czech and don’t like beer, please do share your story of your secret society. Because out of my two years of living here, I have yet to meet a Czech who has an aversion to beer.

Burčák: The Happy Drink

It’s burčák season once again.

Burčák is a Moravian drink made from grape juice normally produced between August to November.   It is actually the earliest stage of wine fermentation, thus it is often called “young wine.”  Each winemaker has his/her own secret technique in burčák-making, but the basic steps remain the same:  juice derived from crushed grapes are fermented and at some point taken out for consumption.  The alcohol level in Burčák is somewhere between 5%-8% and because  it tastes like juice, it can be very deceiving.

My husband and I were at a county fair last weekend and we ended up buying burčák.  Last night, burčák’s deceptive taste made me happy all night.  At dinnertime, I generously consumed this sweet-tasting drink and ended up getting tipsy.  The burčák that we bought must’ve had the maximum amount of alcohol allowed by law.  I can’t believe it hit me that fast.  I know I get drunk pretty easily, but eversince I’ve been here, I have increased my tolerance for alcohol.  Gone were the days when a bottle of beer could get me drunk.  Or so I thought.  But I was no match for burčák.  This sweet alcoholic drink is dangerous!

So if you are ever in the Czech Republic between August to November, beware of this cloudy white liquid that may proliferate in pubs, bars or county fairs.    It may look and taste harmless, but may leave you crawling back home.

Na Zdravi!

Afternoon Coffee

I like flavored coffee. Now that my son is at a stage where he tries to imitate everything I do, it is quite difficult to keep coffee away from him.  I always try to trick him by giving him milk, but he is starting to get smarter and cannot be easily fooled.  But I found a solution.  I found Caro.

Caro is a drink composed of barley, barley malt, chicory and rye.  The origin of this drink can be traced back to the Napoleon era.  During the war between France and England, there was a scarcity of goods from overseas, one of them being coffee.  To compensate for this, people experimented on ground cereals and grains as a replacement for coffee and thus came up with Caro.  Due to its popularity, with a taste closely resembling that of coffee, it stayed as a regular product.

In the beginning, we bought this drink so Jakub can have his “coffee” with us.  But recently, I have found myself drinking caro as well.  The same is true with Kinder chocolate.  I bought it for Jakub so he can have his own chocolate when I’m eating mine.  But recently, I am also finding myself craving for this chocolate too.

Having a kid awakened the kid in me.  So don’t be surprised if I offer you baby juice instead of beer when you are a guest in my house.

How about you.  Do you ever consume stuff for kids?

Chleba: A Gauge for “Czechness”

There are Czechs and there are “Czechs”.  If you want to distinguish a true blue Czech, you have to be in the lookout for their bread preferences.  A true Czech will always look for Chleba.   Chleba is a sour dough rye bread, dark in color and moist.  It has a distinct unique taste to it that is very different from any other bread.

Photo courtesy of  ireceptar.cz

Through all those years that we have spent in the US, my husband never got satisfied with the kind of bread that was sold in the stores there.  He was always saying that it is nothing like Chleba.   Apparently, the same is true for some of the other Czechs that I know.  My brother and sister in law, both Czechs, had to bake their own chleba from scratch when they lived in North Carolina.  They missed it THAT much.

Well, I guess I know how it feels because in the many years that I lived outside of the Philippines, I still crave for rice.  That is also our gauge for “Pinoy-ness.”

Spring Musings

Although today, is relatively cold, we have been having warm weather these past few days. It is definitely spring! The flowers are in bloom and the leaves are just so full of color.

Macro shot of a flower in bloom.

To prepare for the warm weather, I bought Jakub his first pair of sunglasses from a local optical shop.  Unfortunately, he inherited mommy’s nose, so it has to come with a strap to hold it in.

Jakub’s new sunglasses
The boy with his shades.

Last week, Jakub also got his first ice cream.  There was a gelato shop close to the town square, so we got him ice cream which he eventually shared with his daddy.

Devouring his first ice cream — a gelato

I love  warm weather!   When we were living in California, it always meant going to the beach for body surfing, playing volleyball or simply hanging out.   How I miss those days.  I miss California!

Jakub and I at the Will Roger’s State Beach in California.

Unfortunately, Jakub will not get to do all those things now because he is in a totally different environment.  But there’s always something new to look forward to.  I know that the national parks in Czech will always be great.  When we got here last year, it got me amazed.

One of our favorite places in Czech — Adrspach.

From the  3 significant country moves that I’ve made in my lifetime, I find myself missing more people, more places and more things.   The good thing about all these moves is that I get to meet so many people, make valuable memories and form good lasting friendships.  Czech is probably not my last stop, as the world is constantly changing.  But for now, it is the place I call “home.”

Anything to Drink?

Other than wine and beer, I am not very familiar with the whole gamut of commercial alcoholic drinks.  But eversince I came to the Czech Republic, my vocabulary  of “drinks” has greatly increased.   Here are a few of those unique drinks that I recently came upon.

They call this “egg liquor” because the base ingredient  is egg.  It has a sweet alcoholic kick with a distinct egg taste.

This one is wine made from honey.   One of my favorites!    The sweet taste of honey with a hint of alcohol is very interesting and unique.

This is “visnovice,” a spirit distilled from fermented cherries.    They pretty much distill spirits from any fruit that has sugar.  The most common of which is “slivovice,” a spirit distilled from plums.

I guess this one does not need further explanation, because its label is giving it away.  It is beer with a hint of cannabis.  I was surprised to see that is was regularly sold in a leading supermarket.    But I guess it may not be “that”  kind of cannabis.

If you were a visitor in my home, I already have a whole array of “drinks” for you.  So…. what would you like to drink?