Slovakia's Christmas traditions are similar to those of the Czech Republic. Christmas in Slovakia takes place on December 25th. The Bratislava Christmas Market is a major annual event in Slovakia's capital, and it allows visitors to celebrate Christmas the Slovakian way even if they won't be staying through the holidays.
Christmas Eve in Slovakia
Slovakians celebrate Christmas Eve, which they call Generous Evening, by decorating the Christmas tree and sitting down to a Christmas Eve feast. An extra place is set at the table as a symbol of welcome to those who have nobody to share Christmas with. The breaking and sharing of wafers, which may be flavored with honey and sprinkled with nuts, precedes dinner. Traditionally, due to Catholic tradition, people in Slovakia would fast for Christmas Eve, but in order to make sure that children are satisfied and get to bed before opening presents, dinner is often served at a regular time. Several courses may be served for the dinner, including cabbage soup as a starter.
The Christmas carp is an important component to Slovakia's Christmas Eve dinner. Many families keep the carp alive in the bathtub until it is ready to be cooked. More than one adult remembers being a child and playing with the family's Christmas carp. After the fish is killed and cleaned, it is marinated in milk and cut, rather than lengthwise, from the spine to the belly to create horseshoe-like shapes, thought to bring good fortune.
Ježiško, Baby Jesus, brings presents to children and places them under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. The counterpart to Santa Claus in Slovakia is Father Frost or Dedo Mraz. But St. Mikulas can also visit children, who leave their shoes on the doorstep to be filled with treats, on St. Nicholas' Day on December 5.
Carol singers who go from door to door expect to be rewarded for their music with pastries and sweets. Like in other cultures, baking begins early in the Christmas season in Slovakia so that a constant supply of cakes and cookies is available for carolers and non-carolers alike, and to give as gifts or share with friends.
Midnight mass may be attended the night of Christmas Eve, and the family will spend the next two days together, enjoying leftovers, visiting relatives, and resting before returning to work.
Because in pagan times, this period of the winter was associated with the solstice, superstitions and beliefs pervade the Christmas holidays. These superstitions vary from family to family and are taken in the good fun today, but the idea that the carp's scales bring good luck and the presence of garlic on the Christmas table ensures the health, and safety from evil spirits, are a part of the fun and continuity of the Christmas tradition.