Even if you’ve studied English for a number of years, chances are you might struggle to express the way you celebrate the most wonderful festival of the year – Christmas. The thing is that many English textbooks (and even teachers) present Christmas vocabulary typical of the English speaking countries. Whereas it is useful to know and understand what people do at Christmas in the countries whose language you learn, we live in Slovakia and we want to describe Christmas here in Slovakia as we know and this Christmas the best.
Let’s start with what needs to be done before Christmas. Apart from obligatory general cleaning, Slovaks often bake honey cookies. Honey cookies (sometimes called honey bread) is similar to ginger bread, but there is no ginger in it. Instead, honey is added into the dough together with aniseed, cinnamon and cloves. After baking, honey cakes are brushed with egg-white which forms nice glazing. Once the cakes are baked, they are decorated with hard white icing. In many regions people eat bobaľky, pupáky or opekance as we call them. They are basically small yeast dough balls baked on a baking pan. They need to be prepared well in advance (a week or so), so they are soft when eaten.
Of course, we can’t forget Christmas markets. It is a relatively new addition to our Christmas traditions, but it caught on quickly and now almost every bigger Slovak town has one. You can treat yourself to a nice (although not necessarily healthy) traditional local specialty – roasted sausages, mulled vine, hot punch or mead.
Many Slovaks fast on Christmas Eve. This might be more of a religious thing, and although many might demur at first, the evening dinner tastes a million times better after a short period of fasting. In many Slovak families dinner kicks off with a toast – usually a glass of wine. The toast is followed by Christmas wafers. The thin round or oval wafers often embossed with nativity motifs are eaten with honey and garlic. Sometimes an apple is cut into pieces afterwards for health. In some families carp scales are put under a tablecloth for richness or nuts are thrown into the corners of a room for abundance in a family.
Then proper food is served. It is mostly a sauerkraut soup that graces many tables in Slovakia, but some prefer lentil soup or fish soup. Sauerkraut soup is commonly eaten with diced or mashed potatoes and sliced sausage. Although it is a lovely treat for your empty stomach, you don’t want to eat too much of it as there are at least two more courses to be served. First comes fried fish with potato salad. People usually purchase carp for Christmas. Some might, however, find it a bit bony, some mind the taste. Nevertheless, fish is an essential part of the Slovak Christmas dinner, although, to be honest, I prefer battered cod fillets to carp.
The last, and I’d say a bit underappreciated, is opekance (you prepare a week in advance). They are served with melted butter, grated walnuts or ground poppy seeds and powdered sugar.
Then, after a short period of relaxation, we indulge ourselves with assortment of cakes. The cakes are, however, consumed rather reluctantly more or less in horizontal position while watching our favorite Christmas fairy-tales such as The Feather Fairy, Three Nuts for Cinderella or Father Frost.
Although in Slovakia Santa does’t climb a lightning rod to get into our chimneys, presents are opened in the evening, not everybody gets mistletoe kissing or decorates their door with holly and we don’t enjoy Michelin-starred dining, the Slovak Christmas will always have a special place in our hearts.
mať problém vyjadriť – struggle to express (I sometimes struggle to express my thoughts in English.)
medovníky – honey cookies
aníz, škorica a klinčeky – aniseed, cinnamon and cloves
vaječný bielok – egg white
poleva – glazing
kysnuté cesto – yeast dough
plech na pečenie – baking pan
rýchlo sa to uchytilo – it caught on quickly
postiť sa – to fast
dopriať si niečo – treat yourself to
šupiny z kapra – carp scales
oblátky – wafers
šošovicová polievka – lentil soup
hojnosť – abundance
kapustnica – sauerkraut soup
zemiaky nakrájané na kocky alebo roztlačené – diced or mashed potatoes
neodmysliteľná súčasť – an essential part
plný kostí – bony
roztopené maslo – melted butter
postrúhané orechy – grated walnuts
pomletý mak – ground poppy seeds
imelo – mistletoe
cezmína – holly