Czech traditions and customs during Christmas time

Merry Czech Christmas! Are you going to celebrate with us? We´ll appreciate it. And here you can find out how we celebrate Christmas, what Czech traditions are like, what we do during Christmas… Will you try any of the Czech customs? Or will you cook a Czech Christmas dish? Let´s go…


Christmas is the Christian holiday of Jesus Christ´s birth.  And it already „starts“ in November. Advent is time – 4 weeks before Christmas. For Christians, it is a waiting time for the Savior – Jesus Christ´s birth. It´s a time of calming down, thinking about the last year, and spiritual preparation for Christmas. Days are short, evenings long and this is a great time for contemplation. We have an Advent wreath with 4 candles – we light one every Advent Sunday. Have a look at the Advent wreath symbolism and how to make it (video).

The advent calendar can help us to make waiting for Christmas shorter. We prepare calendars mostly for children, they can find e.g. something sweet every Advent day there.

You can also make your Christmas waiting shorter with an e-book Christmas alphabet. You find 27 Czech words concerning Christmas. Download it for free and at Christmas, you´ll be able to talk with Czechs about their traditions, customs, etc.


The 4th of December is the St. Barbora holiday. The tradition is to bring cherry twigs home (we call them „barborky“), put them into the water, and wait whether they will come into blossom till Christmas. Blooming barborky is a symbol of a new light coming (Jesus Christ) and reminds winter solstice (from 22 Dec every day is a bit longer, there is a bit more light). A superstition says that a girl whose barborky came into blossom would get married in a year.

Mikuláš / St. Nicolas

The 6th of December is St. Nicolas (Mikuláš) holiday. We celebrate it the evening before, 5th Dec (formerly people believed that a day started in the preceding night). St. Nicolas was a real man, one of the first Christian bishops. In Czechia Mikuláš with an angel (a good symbol) and a devil (an evil symbol) visits families on the evening of the 5th of December and gives gifts and sweets to children who were obedient all year. From 6 Dec a „physical“ preparation for Christmas starts: we clean our house/flat and bake cookies.


Each family bakes cookies (cukroví). There are small sweet pieces with nice decorations. We usually bake several kinds of sweets. Perníčky (gingerbread cookies) are a typical one. (Have a look at how we prepare perníčky – video). It´s been popular to bake sweets in all of Europe since the 16th century. Many kinds of exotic spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, black pepper) or almonds and dried fruit were brought to Europe at that time. They were very expensive so people could buy them rarely – e.g. at Christmas – and they put them into sweets.

Would you like to bake Czech cookies? You can find one super-easy recipe in an e-book Učte se češtinu v kuchyni (Learn Czech in the kitchen). You will learn a few Czech words and prepare two kinds of cookies that you, your family, and your guests will like and appreciate.



Jmelí / Mistletoe

In Advent, people decorate their flat or house with mistletoe, due to Czech tradition it brings good luck. Mistletoe would be hanging so we can walk under. To kiss your wife/husband/boy or girlfriend under mistletoe means your strong love till next Christmas. When you bring mistletoe as a present you give the person health and good luck.

Betlémy / Christmas cribs

About two weeks before Christmas people started to make Christmas cribs – from wood, ceramics, glass… Cribs showed the nativity scene which happened in Bethlehem. The first Czech crib was made in 1560. In the 19th century, they were the most popular Christmas decoration in Czechia.



The 13th of December is the St. Lucy holiday. Lucy’s name becomes from Latin: lux = light. Czech proverb says: Lucie drinks a little of night. It´s a symbol of winter solstice again when the daylight starts to be a bit longer each day.



Christmas tree

Christmas tree came to Czechia from Germany. There they started to use it in the 17th century but in Czechia people started to decorate it from the beginning of the 19th century (the first Christmas tree in Prague was in 1812) and it´s a Christmas standard decoration from the end of the 19th century. Today it´s the main Christmas symbol. We buy it before Christmas but we should decorate it on 24 Dec. (Christmas tree tradition – video)

The 24th of December – Štědrý den

The 24th of December is Štědrý den („Generous Day“, Christmas Eve), the most important Christmas holiday. People wish Merry Christmas and health and good luck in the coming year – personally or they send postcards, SMS, or e-postcards. Do you know how to wish in Czech? Here you can learn.

Have a look at how we can say „Merry Christmas and Happy New Year“ in 26 languages as well (video).


Czech Christmas dishes

During the day formerly people fasted – they didn´t eat anything or ate only soups or dishes without meat (mushroom kuba was a traditional dish – groats and mushrooms). Those who didn´t eat anything he/she could see a „golden little pig“ in the evening which means a rich new year.

Christmas dinner is the main part of Štědrý den, it should start after the first star comes out. Czechs eat fish soup, fried carp, and potato salad. On the table, there should also be a pulse e.g. lentil as a symbol of abundance. There should be 9 different dishes on the table. We eat vánočka, cookies, and fried and fresh fruit as a dessert. We put one vacant plate on the table for an unexpected guest. We hide a coin or fish scale under each plate to have enough money next year (and we should keep the scale in our purse the whole year). It´s forbidden to leave the table before everyone finishes. Then the family will stay together next year. Those who leave the table during eating he/she will die in a year.

Vánočka is a symbol of the born Jesus in swaddling clothes. The crosses we do during making vánočka are symbols as well. Crosses protect people from evil. When we twist vánočka the lower line means earth, sun, water, and air. The middle line = reason, will, and sense. The upper line = knowledge and love. (How to make vánočka – video)

Gifts from Ježíšek

Since the 19th century, Czechs give presents after Christmas dinner. „Ježíšek“ (little Jesus) brings them but nobody could see him doing that (contrary to American Santa Claus) and that´s why you hardly find any painted picture of Ježíšek giving presents. Before Christmas Czech children write Ježíšek a letter about what kind of gifts they wish for.

Traditions and customs

We can also spend time with some traditional activities, formerly typical for Czech Christmas, during Štědrý den.

  • We cut an apple and wait for what we will see in the center. When seeds make a star we will have a healthy year. When they make a cross someone in the family will be ill or die.
  • We put candles into nutshells and let them float in the bowl with water. One candle = one family member. When candles float together, the family will stay together next year. When a candle moves away from others the person whose the candle is will travel far away.
  • We light františky – a kind of incense cone with special aromatic essence.
  • We pour hot lead into cold water. The lead hardens in the water and makes various shapes. We try to see a symbol describing a new year in the shape.
  • Formerly girls threw a shoe behind themselves – when its toe showed out to the door it meant the girl would marry the next year.

On the 24th of December Christians visit midnight mass in a church – it´s a special mass once a year. People sing Christmas carols and celebrate Jesus’ birth.

Listen to traditional Czech Christmas carols. 

The 25th of December – Boží hod / Christmas Day

The 25th of December is a holiday of Jesus Christ´s birth. A family should spend time together, stay calm, and contemplate. That´s the reason why the celebration takes place a day before. A superstition says that bread baked on 25th Dec or a laid egg has a magic power.

The 26th of December – St. Stephan holiday

This day is a symbol of a gift of food. People visit their families and friends and enjoy this happy day.

The 31st of December – Silvestr

Czech tradition says we should return all things we have borrowed this year. And then we can celebrate the end of the year as we have been celebrating since the 20th century.

The 1st of January – New Year

We eat lentil this day again – it´s a symbol of money and the lentil dish means we will have enough money next year.

The 6th of January – Tři králové / Three King’s Day (Epiphany)

Formerly Christmas ended on the 6th of January. It´s Three Kings Day (according to the Bible they came to welcome Jesus in Bethlehem and gave him gifts). In history three boys were visiting houses in a village or town, they wrote K+M+B above the door (kings names Kašpar, Melichar, Baltazar), sang, and wished people a happy new year. On the 7th of January, we remove the Christmas tree.

Here is all about Czech Christmas traditions in the video.

Don´t forget to download or listen to:

This article in the Czech version

15th Dec 2020


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