Eastern Slovakia
Slovak and Carpatho-Rusyn Genealogical Research


by Richard Mihalek

If you're interested in a Christmas tradition as was kept in a small village in Slovakia, read on. This village, Drahovce, is a few minutes south of Piestany in western Slovakia.

My grandmother was born there and had brought with her the traditions of her village to America which I, as a boy, enjoyed. The following account is a translation of a recent letter I had received from an acquaintance of mine in Drahovce in which she shares the details of her childhood Christmas as she remembers it.

This is a translation of a letter from pani Veronika Jurisova:

. . . This is the manner in which we children celebrated the Christmas holidays with our parents and grandparents.

On the day before Christmas Eve, mother baked kolace with poppyseed, nuts, prune jelly and other fruits on six baking sheets. These she would store in a wooden trough covered with a tablecoth.

We children could not take what we wished of these kolace as they had to last for the duration of the holidays. Besides the kolace, mother also baked three sheets of buchty which she filled with prune jelly. She gave each of us two or three of these and hid the rest.

On the morning of Christmas Eve, mother swept out our entire house especially well so that the entire upcoming year would be clear of bad tidings coming upon the household.

This day we fasted, ate very little, so we would have a great appetite for the Christmas Eve meal. Father prepared a Christmas tree which was about a yard tall.

We children decorated the tree with whatever we could afford, namely apples, nuts, paper roses and candles. We had no electricity at that time. The tree was placed on a table in the other room adjoining the kitchen.

Mother kept busy fixing the evening meal. She made cabbage soup with dried prunes, steamed the buchty and placed them into a large bowl over which she added ground poppyseed and sugar. She also made a mixture of honey and water to pour over the buchty to save on sugar.

Mother also made a special drink for toasting family and friends during the Christmas season which they toasted to the infant Jesus. To make this she browned sugar in a pan with a bit of caraway until it melted into a caramel, added water to it and poured it into a bottle for the children. In a second bottle she added some alcohol for the adults.

During the Christmas Eve day father gave extra care and attention to the domestic animals- cows, horses, calves- giving each a half of an oplaka/wafer in celebration of the birth of our Lord.

He brought in an extra supply of wood for the fire as we would be spending a longer evening together before bedtime.

"About 4 PM, as it started to get darker, the shepherds and herdsmen of the village began playing on horns and singing Christmas songs. They went from house to house of those families for whom they pastured livestock during the summer months announcing their presence by playing a Christmas song on the horns.

The man and woman of the house would go out to meet them offering them kolace, bread, apples, a Crown or two and a toast of that special Christmas "whisky" mother had made. After exchanging well wishes and season's greetings, the men moved on to other households so they would have sufficient food for themselves and their children.

At 5 PM the bell on the church was rung to announce the start of Christmas Eve. The tables throughout the village were set with the Christmas "whiskey", oplatky, honey and garlic.

On the stove was the buchty and kapustnica/cabbage soup. Earlier mother had placed into a colander small portions of their harvest - grain, peas, nuts, apples, pears and other field crops.

Mother, carrying the colander, some holy water and a lighted candle, first paused in the doorway to the yard and sprinkled some of the holy water toward the yard to ward off all evil and serious accidents that might come to the family during the coming year.

Father and we children were seated quietly around the table and put out the lamp. Mother came to the doorway and knocked three times on the door frame. With each knock father would ask, 'What do you bring?' Mother answered each time, 'The Lord's gift.' After the third knock mother came into the room greeting us with, 'Praise be to the Lord Jesus Christ' to which we answered, 'Forever, Amen.'

Then mother put some holy water into each of the four corners of the room and said the following prayer, 'Good tidings be yours during these glorius holy days of the birth of Christ the Lord, may He bring you health, happiness and His abundant blessings, and after death that you will be taken up into His heavenly kingdom.'

She then placed the colander and lighted candle on the table. Together we prayed, 'Angel of God, my Guardian dear. . .,' sang a Christmas song and father read something appropriate for Christmas from the Holy Scriptures. Following this we ate supper.

After supper we gathered about the tree to open our presents. Only we children received presents and that was always slippers and hankerchiefs. There was no money for anything more.

We children had nothing to give to our parents in return. Even though our gifts were inexpensive, we were filled with the fervor of the Christmas spirit and with gratefulness and peace that awaited the holy birth of Jesus Christ.

By this time in the evening children began to come beneath our windows to sing Christmas carols. After the singing, mother went out to present them with apples, nuts, a kolace and a halier or two.

The children then gave their greetings and 'thank yous' and went on to other homes to sing. The children were happy that they could partake in the celebration of Christmas.

Around 8 PM the neighbors, relatives and friends came by to sing and offer their seanson's greetings and a toast to the Lord. At 11 PM the church bell rang to call the people to the midnight mass.

The church was filled to the very last space. On the next day, Christmas, the people went to mass and litany of the saints. No visiting was done this day. People stayed together as family.

However, on the following day, St. Stephen's, the people again began to visit amongst their familiies. These are my memories of Christmas as a child."

I hope you didn't mind reading through all of this. This is something that I as a child was able to enjoy at Christmas time. For any of you who can remember some of these early traditions with their relatives may we give thanks to them for the best Christmas memories of all.

Vesele Vianoce and a Stastlivy Novy Rok to all of you out there.

If you haven't seen it yet, please visit our Easter in Drahovce web site.

Richard & Johanna Mihalek - E-mail: Valhalla@cheqnet.net
Northern Wisconsin

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Photograph - Handpainted Nativity Set, Pauline Stanislaw Kopchak, 1972