I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas
The days are shorter and the temperature colder. Winter is here, and with it comes the scent of mulled wine permeating the air in central Prague and all the other delights offered by a Czech winter.
One delightful Czech tradition takes place on the eve of St Nicholas Day. From late afternoon on 5 December, you are likely to spot groups of three figures (you will definitely be able to see them in Old Town Square). St Nicholas walks the streets with an angel and the Devil. St Nicholas will ask children whether they have been good during the year. If they have, they will be rewarded with fruit and, maybe, sweets. If the children have been naughty, they will find themselves holding coal, or hard potatoes. So make sure when St Nicholas asks you, you can say that you’ve been good.
Each year, Prague holds delightful Christmas markets. My favourite is always the smaller, more intimate Namesti Miru market. But Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square have their charms, including gorgeously decorated Christmas trees. The markets will be open every day from 26 November 2016 until 6 January 2017. Enjoy browsing the range of handicrafts, toys, glassware, winter clothes (hats, gloves, scarves), and Christmas tree ornaments, that is on display. Don’t forget to taste some of the local foods, such as klobasa and Trdelnik, and wash them down with a beer, or mulled wine. This is a great time of year to visit different churches and markets and enjoy seeing a variety of Nativity Scenes.
One of my favourite Czech traditions is upheld by women (I am sure that somewhere there are Czech men who do this baking – but I haven’t found them yet.) Women of all ages will get together with their friends and family for the annual baking of Christmas Cookies. By working together, they can create more varieties of these delicious morsels, which they then give to friends and family. One of my happiest memories was spending a morning with a friend mixing, shaping and baking, all accompanied by a glass (or two?) of wine. Here’s a recipe for one of the best-loved varieties – Vanilla Crescents.
- 80 g butter
- 30 g powdered sugar (can be flavoured with vanilla)
- 1 egg yolk
- 100 g plain flour
- pinch of salt
- 100 g walnuts, finely ground
- a little grated lemon rind
- vanilla sugar mixed with powdered sugar (to coat the crescents)
1. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk, followed by the sifted flour and salt, ground walnuts and lemon zest. Knead the dough, until the ingredients are mixed and dough comes together.
2. Wrap the dough in foil or cling wrap and let it rest for at least an hour in the fridge.
3. Preheat the oven to 180 °C.
4. Roll out the dough into a thin cylinder, then cut into chunks about 5 cm long. Shape the dough into crescents.
5. Lay the crescents on a baking tray lined with baking paper, leaving some space between them as they will rise.
6. Bake the crescents for about 10 minutes until slightly coloured.
7. While they are still warm, coat them in the mixture of powdered sugar and vanilla sugar.
Prague in winter - the best place to be in winter
Closer to Christmas Day, as you walk through Prague, you might see tanks of water, crammed full of live fish. A traditional Czech Christmas dinner (held on Christmas Eve) includes carp. Different families have differentrecipes, but it will always be served with potato salad.
Of course, Prague always offers performances of the beautiful Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker. And every December you’ll be able to attend a performance of the Czech Christmas Mass by Ryba. But rest assured that there will be plenty of other cultural events happening during winter in this popular Central European city.
While some people dream of summer holidays, lying under palm trees on beaches, watching the sea, I dream of Christmas in Prague. It may not be white, but it’s always wonderful.
By Dalice Trost
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