Foreigners living in the Czech Republic react to carp and other Christmas traditions

A recent poll of employees working for an international company in Prague found out how expats really feel about carp and other holiday traditions. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 25.11.2021 10:37:00 (updated on 25.11.2021) Reading time: 4 minutes

How do foreigners living in Czechia view the nation's beloved Christmas dishes and traditions? A recent poll conducted by ExxonMobil found that some traditions are appreciated more than others. Pollsters interviewed the company's staffers, who hail from more than 80 countries, at its Prague headquarters.

For foreigners spending their first Christmas in the Czech Republic, the killing of the traditional carp taken from the tubs on the streets, right in the city center, can be a major culture shock. For others, it recalls customs of their own homeland.

"I don't know if I like the tradition completely, but the truth is that it reminds me of one of the traditions of my country when we kill sheep as a sacrifice during the Kurban bayram," says ExxonMobile staffer Huseyin Kaya from Turkey, adding that his favorite Czech Christmas tradition is Christmas markets.

Another fishy tradition, carp soup, was greeted with enthusiasm by some, particularly Indian staffer Satya Prakash Gupta.

“It's usually quite hard to find fresh fish in Czechia, that’s why I found it strange to see a lot of people outside of the supermarket to buy fish before Christmas Eve," he says.

"Only later did I find out that it was carp. In the part of India where I come from, we eat the same fish and it is called the Rohu fish. I grew up eating a lot of carp myself, so it's great to be able to buy fresh carp here and prepare my Indian-style carp soup for Christmas,” he says.

But when it comes to the taste of carp itself, respondents were less than enthusiastic. Most foreigners prefer schnitzel over carp, which 40 percent of respondents found 'disgusting'. Sixty percent of respondents indicated a distaste for carp soup. Potato salad, however, is a firm favorite and was universally relished by those polled.

Many foreigners living in the Czech Republic aren't as familiar with other holiday traditions. In fact, a third of those polled hadn't experienced any of the country's holiday customs. Most had heard of "golden pig" while the vast majority consider slicing apples to read the future or floating boats made from walnut shells to be nice customs, which they are happy to adopt and pass on to their children.

Many Czech customs are adopted by foreigners.
Many Czech holiday customs are adopted by foreigners.

Traditions around the world

Despite the fact that Christian traditions don't prevail in many of the countries represented in the poll, Christmas is still a call for celebration. In India, says Gupta, "People usually go out with their families for a picnic and later to church, no matter what religion they practice, purely to enjoy the day, even if they're not Christians."

Kaya says even in primarily Muslim Turkey, Christmas is a well-known concept. "There are a minority of Christians in Turkey, most of them practice and adhere to all Christmas traditions. But the tree is decorated only on the last day of the year. Turks, as a nation dominated by Islam, celebrate the New Year in particular, but with an atmosphere very similar to that of Christmas," he said.

A traditional holiday meal in Turkey.

In Orthodox Russia, Grandfather Frost brings gifts, but children have to wait for them until the first week of January, which is due to the shift in the Julian calendar used in Eastern Europe, compared to the Gregorian calendar adhered to in the West.

Due to the Soviet ban on Christmas celebrations in 1929, Russians lost a number of customs and traditions, says Dmitry Tikhonov, a consultant at the Prague branch of ExxonMobil.

"In Soviet Russia, atheism was the official religion, and Christmas celebrations were completely banned from 1929. In 1935, most Christmas traditions were incorporated into New Year's celebrations, making it a major holiday. Although Christmas was renewed as a holiday after the collapse of the Soviet Union, people still celebrate the New Year as a major holiday and traditions have nothing to do with official Christmas," Tikhonov says.

The most important thing is food

Christmas Eve dinner is the festive culmination of most celebrations and takes different forms around the world. "Russia is a diverse country and so traditional dishes differ. In the European part of Russia, the traditional Christmas, or actually New Year’s dish is shuba. It is a salad of sliced pickled herring covered with layers of grated cooked vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beetroots) with chopped onions, a layer of freshly grated apple, and mayonnaise," says Tikhonov. "We mostly eat pork, but goose with apples or a hare in cream is also popular."

Russian 'suba'.
Traditional Russian 'shuba'.

For the New Year and the Middle Eastern Christmas (for those who celebrate it), people sit down to a traditional dinner in Turkey. "On New Year’s Eve, we usually eat some seafood with lots of vegetables of all kinds, sarma (stuffed vine leaves), baklava, and other sweets. The traditional Turkish drink is raki. We must not forget to mention the traditional Turkish tea and coffee, which is served in Turkey in the late evening," adds Husein.

Swedish families enjoy pickled herring soaked with Christmas ham on the evening of December 24, in Romania, they eat sarmale (cabbage rolls) and cozonac (traditional pie). In neighboring Poland, fish soup, carp, and potato salad are also on the menu but complemented with traditional pierogi. In France, foie gras, poultry, and seafood are enjoyed on Christmas Eve. The most popular Christmas dessert is stuffed fruit or Buche de Noel.

Across countries and continents, however, understanding is key to translating differing customs. "I don't necessarily see a problem with carp killing, because it's part of the tradition, which I fully respect," says Bagate Moussa, an expeditor from Ivory Coast who works in ExxonMobil's Prague office. After all, various Christmas customs and celebrations lead to the same thing, time spent with family and loved ones.

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