*”It will be winter, it will be frost.” A traditional Moravian folk song I have learned to play in my guitar lesson and now hum and sing in my head as I walk around in the cold.
First of all, HAPPY THANKSGIVING AMERICA! As I sit here in my new local café hangout spot, I wish everyone a happy and filling Thanksgiving holiday. It has been a slightly difficult week constantly talking about Thanksgiving in my lessons to groups of students who have no idea the importance and meaning of this day for American families. Meanwhile, my stomach has been growling all day and I get frustrated trying to explain how great this holiday is. I think the most important point I have tried to make my students is that Thanksgiving is a holiday about being grateful for the things you have and aware of those less fortunate than you. I think it is important for everyone, but especially for high school students, to take a moment to think about this. In each of my Thanksgiving lessons I have finished with having my students go around and talk about what they are thankful for. Here is my list this year:
- Supportive family and friends, even when I’m miles away
- A wonderful end to my four years at William and Mary with a great final semester
- The friendly people–students, teachers, new friends, and strangers– I have met here in the Czech Republic, who continue to make me feel welcome and at home here
- And the amazing opportunity I have to live in a foreign country, travel to new places, and learn from my experience here each day
The past two weeks have definitely exposed the wrath of Czech winter, which is fast approaching. It has started to get dark at 4pm and the temperature seems to be dropping each day. What impresses me is how Czech people have a great drive to cope and carry on, despite the frigid weather.
First of all, winter does not stop Czech people from being outside. Whether it is taking the dog for a daily walk, or simply walking around town, most Czech people I speak to do not let the cold weather stop their daily activities. I think at this point in the United States I would have given up on any forms of outdoor activity or unnecessary time in the cold. Yet, in the past weeks I have continued exploring new places, with a little push from some Czech friends. Hana and I hiked in the Šobes vineyards area of Podyjí National Park, and some new friends took me for a walk to the quarry with their pony! I even started volunteering at a Czech pre-school group aimed at learning English. We went for a walk with the kids to pick spruce branches for a craft. While the little boys could not contain their excitement to run around I was freezing from head to toe! Looks like I’ll need to thicken my skin to keep up with the people here.
With Christmas coming, I think it will be easier to keep warm with all the spirit and traditional activity going on here. Znojmo is slowly transforming into a Christmas wonderland with its mini-version of a classic European Christmas market. I’m looking forward to when they open for the month starting this weekend! (More to come on this later). This weekend I took part in the Christmas spirit with baking traditional Czech Christmas cookies with Hana. The type we baked were perník, or gingerbread. I was really entertained by the different shapes of the cookie cutters here. For example, they have a fish because Czechs typically eat fried carp for their Christmas meal. Also, they have a mushroom shape because of the popularity of mushrooms as a food and looking for mushrooms as an activity. Another difference is that Czech children do not believe that Santa Claus brings their gifts, but rather that Ježíšek, or Baby Jesus, magically delivers their gifts on Christmas Eve. I’m really looking forward to a traditional Czech Christmas this year!
As Thanksgiving and Christmas begin to intertwine in this holiday season it has begun to frustrate me with how to explain “American Christmas” to people here. In the Czech Republic, Christmas is more of a national traditional holiday than a religious one, as most of the country is non-religious. Almost all Czech people celebrate Christmas in the same way with the same schedule of events and the same meal. In this way, it is similar to Thanksgiving. When people have begun to ask me what Americans do for Christmas it is hard for me to explain for two reasons. The first is that not all Americans celebrate Christmas depending on their religious or ethnic background. The second is that depending on their religious or ethnic background each family may celebrate Christmas to a different extent or in a slightly less strict way each year. Try explaining this with a language and cultural barrier! On the one hand, I feel I could just explain a superficial and generalized American Christmas. On the other hand, this could be a cool opportunity to really shake some assumptions about Christmas around the world. While I still have a week until my Christmas presentations begin, I will definitely be thinking about this!
Coming up this week: A Fulbright Thanksgiving celebration in Prague, the start of the Advent period of Christmas markets, and MY MOM IS VISITING FOR THE WEEK!