Ok so now that the holidays have settled down I will do a small recap of my winter break from school and the culmination of the Christmas holiday. The school “semester” ended with a marathon of American Christmas lessons to 12 classes of jaded students, anxious to just be done with school already. I wore my Santa hat and proceeded to try and make Czech high school students sing the “12 Days of Christmas” and “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The responses ranged from enthusiastic to indifferent, but I can confidently say at least now I can almost recite the entire poem “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” by heart. Some realizations about Christmas/winter holidays that I have learned*:
- Not everyone believes Santa delivers presents on Christmas Eve. This meant that I had to explain the entire myth of Santa, elves, North Pole, chimneys, reindeer, sleigh, cookies and milk, sitting on Santa’s lap at the mall etc.
- Not everyone hangs stockings on their mantelpiece.
- It isn’t typical in every country sends Christmas cards.
- Not everyone has candy canes or even associates peppermint with Christmas time.
- Not everyone watches “It’s a Wonderful Life” around Christmas (but almost all Czech people have seen “Home Alone”)
- Czech people find the concept of “Snow Days” ridiculous
- The Austrian ballet version of “The Nutcracker” was entirely different without a Candy Land and with a Clara and Nutcracker who were young adults.
- Not everyone watches the ball drop or even watches the TV at midnight on New Years
*Disclaimer that maybe some of these things might have been obvious, but I definitely had never thought of them as uniquely American/East Coast American things before.
My break started with the arrival of my Dad and Denise and we went to Kitzbühel in Tirol, Austria. It was my first time skiing in 4 years and I forgot how big and beautiful mountains can be. The Alps were huge and seemed to have more angular peaks versus the rounded tops of the Rockies that I am used to. The snow was just enough for skiing and the weather was sunny and warm everyday. It was perfect! It was great to wander around the town and see the Christmas markets there, too. The little town was so cute and colorful. Most of all, I loved getting back to skiing and then had an amazing paragliding experience! Our ski instructor offered that he is trained in paragliding as well so two days later the weather perfectly for paragliding. I was even pleasantly surprised that take-off just involved running down a ski slope, rather than jumping off a cliff, or something. Even though it only lasted 15 minutes, the view was amazing and we made some “action” of doing figure-8 loops and a spiral that moderately made me want to puke as if I was on a roller coaster. Overall, it was a really amazing experience and not so scary at all 🙂
The next part of our trip involved returning to the Czech Republic for the Christmas Eve celebration. On the way to Znojmo we stopped in Česky Krumlov just in time to see a live nativity play and carol singing in the main square. Then the “Generous Day” began with a long day of Czech traditions celebrated with the family with whom I lived my first month here. We decorated the tree with several kinds of lights and ornaments, ate fish soup for lunch (destroying our chances to see the “golden pig”), put fish scales in our wallets, went to a Christmas mass in the famous Znojmo St. Nicholas Church, watched Czech fairytales, lit candles in the garden and looked at the stars, ate a dozen kinds of Christmas cookies, and then finally ate the four-course Christmas meal: homemade duck pâté with olives, sundried tomatoes, Znojmo pickles, and homemade chutney, more fish soup, breaded carp with 2 kinds of potato salad, and a special recipe of Třeboň style carp. After dinner the musical Ondruš family played Christmas carols and I was forced to (unsuccessfully) play the two I have learned on the guitar. Finally, with the sound of the bell Ježišek arrived with lots of presents under the tree. It was so special to see the Czech Christmas traditions, but it made a perfect mix to also have a normal American style Christmas the next morning too.
The rest of my Dad and Denise’s trip was mostly spent in Vienna. We toured around museums, palaces, and markets, ate delicious food, “crashed“ a birthday party, and saw two performances at the beautiful Vienna Opera House. Being in Vienna was like being in a whole different world, even though only 1 hour and 15 minutes from the town I now call home. Besides the German language, lavish and stately buildings, wide boulevards, and the fact that it is a real big city, it really is apparent just how much more commercial and “Western“ Vienna is in contrast to Prague. I could just sense how the head start of 40 years without Communism really boosted this city and country forward in terms of customer service, English language accessibility, and consumerism. Returning to the Czech Republic after 4 days felt like I was Cinderella ending the fairytale at midnight. However, I will say that if I were to compare to Vienna to a US city it would be Washington DC and Prague would be more like New York. As the capital of the Hapsburg Empire, Vienna has the official and grand feeling of DC, while Prague feels more like home to me with its packed, crowded, and twisty streets, more avant-garde culture, and never-sleeping nightlife.
My holiday break drew to a close with a wonderful New Years Eve (or Silvestr) celebration at my friend Hana’s house. It was quite international with a Czech who speaks Czech, English, and Spanish, a Peruvian who lives in Spain and only speaks Spanish, a German who speaks German, English and Spanish, a German who speaks only German and English, and me who speaks English, Spanish, and a small bit of Czech. As we cooked Spanish tapas and watched Czech fairytales and American movies dubbed in Czech, we spoke a combination of Spanish and English altogether. The highlight of the night was hiking 30 minutes through the National Park to watch the fireworks over Znojmo at midnight. It was beautiful to ring in the New Year watching the plethora of fireworks across the horizon over my “little town.“ Even though it mistakenly feels like I’m at the halfway point, I have a feeling that the next 6 months are going to be pretty good. So much has changed in 4 months, I’m excited to see what the next 6 will bring!