2014 marked a notable year for Czech-American relations, particularly in the Washington D.C area, where Czech themed events lit up the fall calendar. From the Mutual Inspirations Festival in memory of legendary author Franz Kafka and Czech film nights at Bistro Bohem, to a lecture series on the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, nothing said Vitáme Vás! (We welcome you!) like the annual České vánoční trhy (Christmas market) hosted by the Embassy of the Czech Republic. In attendance this year were members of YPIA’s Europe and Eurasia program, who reveled in an afternoon of Czech historical, culinary, and decorative holiday customs.
The visit commenced with a comprehensive overview of Czech winter holiday traditions by YPIA cultural guide, Jocelyn McDaniel, a third generation Czech-American, whose family hails from the Moravian city of Brno. Ms. McDaniel explained how the holiday season traditionally begins with Dušičky (All Souls Day) on November 2, a quiet, reflective day when Czechs pay homage to their passed ancestors, and continues through December with several Christmas festivities. Highlights include the delightful celebration of Mikuláš (St. Nicholas Day) on December 5th, in which good and bad citizens alike are rewarded appropriately by a costumed Angel and Devil with either sweets or potatoes, Štědrý den (Christmas Eve) on December 24th, when families and friends gather to exchange gifts and enjoy a delicious meal of carp and apple strudel, and the Boží hod vánoční (Christmas Feast) on Decmber 25-26th, in which citizens come together in communities to sing holiday carols, help those in need, and reflect on the past year.
Throughout the afternoon, YPIA guests enjoyed participating in the market’s numerous activities. A guest from Canada particularly appreciated tasting Trdelník, a traditional sweet pastry topped with sugar and walnuts, which was made on spot by the Embassy’s own chef, while a graduate student in the vicinity positively remarked on the festive nature of the Czech spiced apple cider available to try. Although unable to receive an English version of the drink recipe, she said, “I can imagine drinking this on a cold, snowy evening and look forward to finding comparable recipes online.” In addition to culinary offerings, the market visit was not complete without viewing the beautiful traditional ornaments for sale, which are crafted by Czech artisans and sold each year around the world. Upon leaving the market, the Embassy’s cultural staff bid YPIA farewell with Hezke svatky! (Happy Holidays!) and encouraged future attendance at their cultural events.