How Mixed-Culture Expat Families Celebrate Christmas

Several local families share their merrily mixed-up holiday traditions; we’d like to hear yours, too!

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas Published on 22.12.2016 11:51:27 (updated on 22.12.2016) Reading time: 4 minutes

Holiday celebrations can get pretty lively among cross-cultural families residing in the Czech Republic, many of which observe multiple customs beyond the local festivities. We asked several to share their merrily mashed-up holiday traditions:

A Tale of Two Tables, Slovak-Italian Style

We split Christmas between both Italy and Slovakia. Christmas Eve dinner in Slovakia means vianocne oplatky (Christmas wafers with honey), steamed sauerkraut, mashed peas, and fried cod-fish filet, not carp, with potato salad. I make eggnog, which my partner treats more like the Italian zabaione cream, eating it with vanilkové rohlíčky.

Christmas Day in Italy involves a big, long family lunch with Venetian fish-based dishes like bigoli in salsa (spaghetti-like pasta with anchovy and onion) or piovra (steamed octopus with vegetables). Holiday meals end with a slice of pandoro or in my partner’s family a piece of mandorlato, a heavenly handmade nougat.

There’s no shortage of wine or grappa; catching up with friends over aperitivi is as important as spending time with the family. –Natalia Homolova 

A glass of grappa
A glass of grappa


Gifts from Two Guys and Twelve Dishes On the Table

We are a Polish-Czech family. Every year we travel from Prague to Szczecin, getting gifts from Święty Mikołaj and eating way too much food there (in the Polish tradition there are 12 different dishes on the table but we put out some extras because my partner is vegetarian).

My Czech in-laws do Ježíšek and make řízek or potato salad, my mother-in-law makes some cukroví; she makes it a few weeks early to let it sit, which I don’t understand but it’s good! -Marta Budzyň

Romanian Sausage Party, English Stockings

We are a British-Romanian family, both me and my husband cook Christmas food [specific to our countries]. Presents are found on the 25th in the morning and the kids also get stockings. Then on the 26th or 27th we go to Romania where I am from and celebrate with sausages, something like Czech tlačenka but much better, big sausage with rice, stuffed cabbage leaves, liver sausage, black pudding, Romanian borscht, tripe soup, polenta balls stuffed with Balkan cheese and egg, pickles, sweet bread, and cakes. –Ioana Cairns-Dane

Romanian Sarma and Mamaliga / Wikpedia @Themightyquill
Romanian Sarma and Mamaliga / Wikpedia @Themightyquill

Medieval Mince Pies vs. Czech Carp

We are a Czech-British family. My British husband brings suet from the UK, I make the pudding sometimes as early as August, make my own mince pies according to some medieval recipe so I actually stick minced beef in it and dried fruit and lots of brandy and let it sit for two weeks before making it into mince pies. My husband hates carp, cotton wool with needles, he calls it. He now threatens the kids that if they are naughty they will get Czech Christmas with carp and Ježíšek as a punishment! –Eva R.

Sinterklaas Stops by Prague

I’m American-Scottish and my partner is Dutch-Danish-Norwegian so we figured out ways to combine the best of his family and different cultural traditions plus creating our own. We celebrate Sinterklaas for two weeks from the end of November to December 5. Our son leaves a shoe by the window with a carrot for Sinterklaas’s horse every night and sings a song and gets a little gift in the morning. On Dec 5 a bag “mysteriously” arrives on our doorstep filled with gifts.

Sweets from Sinterklaas
Sweets from Sinterklaas

I’m not a traditional person and get confused by waiting a year to eat something you love so we just prepare a nice meal with extra effort. Although the contest of who can eat their milk rice the quickest to find the nut inside to get the gift is pretty fun!

We also incorporate faith by reading stories and then having conversations about what that day means and what the time of year represents for people of different faiths or beliefs. –Gail Whitmore

Even a Czech Can’t Love Beer in a Bowl

Danish Øllebrød / Wikipedia @RhinoMind
Danish Øllebrød / Wikipedia @RhinoMind

We are a Czech-Danish family. We live in Prague but always spend Christmas in Denmark. I cook traditional Czech for breakfast and lunch; for dinner mostly Danish things like turkey with stuffing and potatoes roasted in caramelized sugar with gravy sauce as well as Christmas beer bread pudding which is basically bread boiled in Christmas ale with cream on top; I hate that with all my heart. –Simona Zavadilova

Czech Christmas Cuisine Done Light

We’re a Finnish-Czech family and we circulate every three years, one year at my Czech in-laws’, one year at my parents’ house in Finland and one year in our own home.

When we’re at home we cook Czech (pea soup, fish, potatoes) but in a more Finnish way; Czech carp or salmon with white wine, cream, and vegetables instead of fried.

Finnish Piparkakku / Wikipedia @Jonik
Finnish Piparkakku / Wikipedia @Jonik

I do potato salad but a lighter version than the Czech one, dessert is Finnish style with gingerbread and mulled wine. So basically it’s about doing it a little lighter (no frying or mayo) than Czech cuisine. -Anna Heczko

See how Hanukkah is celebrated locally with this great recipe for latkes, or make an American holiday classic, pumpkin pie

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