Christmas Shenanigans in Eastern and Central Europe – Part 2

Christmas Decorations

Only four days left and its Christmas! Yes, in Continental Europe we celebrate Christmas on the 24th, not the 25th. To get us into the final Christmas spirit, we light the fourth candle of our advent wreath today and start wrapping the first presents.  

While Scotland might have the better Christmas songs, we enjoy the many traditions we have before and after Christmas. In one of our previous articles we already introduced you to the many traditions we celebrate during the first four December weeks. In this article, we’ll show you how we celebrate Christmas and that it doesn’t end on the 24th.


24th December

Finally, the big day arrives on the 24th of December. Yes, we do Christmas before you guys. In the morning, people usually decorate their tree with ornaments inherited from distant relatives. Average age of a bubble is about 45 years and they are in all sorts of forms and shapes from various birds to chimney sweepers. Although it’s our Christmas Day, there’s one big annoying thing about 24th. Which is that you are expected to feast until dinner. As a child, you are told that those who manage not to eat anything the whole day will be rewarded by seeing zlaté prasátko (a golden pig). I can tell you that this is a straight-up lie. There’s no such thing as zlaté prasátko. It’s just your grandpa, creating a reflection with a small mirror hidden under the table. It took me about seven years to find out.

But don’t get annoyed, there are all sorts of actives that you can get entertained with while you starve! I chose the top four for you:

1. Cutting an apple – take a fresh apple and cut it horizontally into two halves. When you look at the inside of the apple, the seeds should form a little star. This means you will be in good health for the next year. No star means… no health, I guess? Adult supervision highly recommended.

2. Molybdomancy – my personal favourite! A technique of divination using molten metal, practised on Christmas day to reveal your future. Most people melt lead in a tin and then drop it into water. Great fun when supervised by an adult. Potential fire hazard.

3. Throwing a shoe – take a shoe and throw it over your shoulder. If it lands with its tiptoe facing the door, you will leave the house within the next year. If it lands with the heel closer to the door, you’re staying with your parents. Previously used to forecast marriages (for girls) and university studies (for boys). You can use any shoe you like, in my experience slippers work the best because they fall flat and don’t end up on the side as often as trainers. No supervision needed.

4. Walnut boats sailing – you will need some walnut shells, small candles, skewers or thin wooden sticks and a large bucket (you can also use a bathtub). Create little boats by attaching candles into the shells (light on a candle and let a bit of wax drip into the shell, then position the candle on the hot wax). Place your boat on the water and watch the way it sails – it’s behaviour will predict your life for the next year. Great fun, supervision recommended.

This molten piece of metal is better than any fortune teller



After all that pagan witchcraft, the big dinner commences around six o’clock. And here comes another shocker for you – the menu is nothing that you’d expect. First, a soup is served – there are no rules for the specific type as far as I’m aware. I’m from the mountains so we would have a chunky mushroom soup with homemade noodles. My mum grew up in the south, so she’d insist on having a fish soup with croutons (yuck!). Certain regions also have bread soup or sour cabbage soup. However, the main dish remains the same for everyone – breaded fish with potato salad. Imagine fish and chips, but you’re only allowed to eat it once a year. Of course, our potato salad is nothing like chips. First of all, it’s cold and full of all sorts of vegetables like carrots and peas. Each family has a secret recipe, for example, we use a few slices of apple to balance the harshness of raw onion. Gherkins are mandatory.

After the main course, everyone can have some Christmas cookies, but most of the participants under the age of sixteen are nervously twitching at the table. Another shocker for you – we can open our presents on Christmas Eve! I suspect it’s to make the kids behave during the dinner, but any Christian would tell you it’s because Jesus was born that very night. Which leads me to another shocker – in Eastern Europe, it’s not Santa who brings you present, but Baby Jesus. Which doesn’t really make sense considering the Czech Republic is one of the least religious countries in the world, but hey, we love our traditions. More east you go, more wild things get.  In Russia, they get their presents brought by Ded Moroz (Father Frost).

The dinner is eaten, and the presents are opened. Now everyone’s off to watch the premiere of the latest Czech fairy-tale on the TV. Needless to say, they are usually rubbish, but an honourable mention goes to Anděl Páně (An Angel of the Lord) which is class (we’re really not that religious, I swear).


25th & 26th December

The next day, which is the UK’s Christmas day, is something we call Boží hod vánoční, and it’s usually filled with family visits, mulled wine and friends you’d meet at the local Christmas market. You can just let yourself drift on the Christmas atmosphere without the stress of the previous day. The following day, which is Boxing Day in the UK, is actually called Svatý Štepán (Saint Stephen’s Day). As far as I know, there are no particular traditions associated with this day. Our family tradition was to go ice skating or cross-country skiing to “release the potato salad energy”.


31st December

Although the following days are not considered the national holiday, most people are off work and spend time chilling before the 31th of December. Traditionally, many people would travel to the mountains to celebrate Silvester (Hogmanay or New Year’s Eve) with their friends at chat (cottage). This adventure usually includes a lot of skiing and a lot of alcohol. There’s no such year starting off a New Year with a terrible hangover on a ski slope.


6th January

Hold on, this is not the end. Christmas is officially not over until the 6 January. Tří Králové (Three Kings’ Day, or Epiphany) commemorates the Three Kings’ visit of the Baby Jesus. Also, the superstition says that you shouldn’t leave Christmas decorations hanging after this day. On the day, people’s houses are visited by the Three Kings who bless their homes and chalk the door with their initials. One of the more extreme traditions is Tříkrálové plaván – an outdoor Winter swimming. January is the coldest month of the year, and temperatures tend to fall to minus 20 degrees during the day, so you can imagine that it’s not an overly popular tradition. Unless you’re Russian.


 

And that’s all. I’ll be spending my Christmas in Glasgow for the sixth year in a row, having a stuffed turkey and a nut roast, happily opening my presents on the 25th. I might miss some of the traditions we have back home, but who says I can’t make some cukroví and wash it down with my whisky eggnog? Cause it the end, it’s not about where you are, but who you are with.

Have a lovely Christmas everyone! – from the Continentals in Scotland.

Christmas Shenanigans in Eastern and Central Europe – Part 1

On 6th December, children receive presents from Saint Nicolas if they have been nice – in Germany they get them in their shoes.

Everyone loves Christmas, that’s a universal thing. The way people celebrate it, not so much. In Western Europe, it all starts with Halloween. When all those (not so) spooky decorations go down, everyone knows there are about three weeks of a slow transition period which culminates with the first festive cheer of early December. In Europe, our Christmas period is much more organised. Some rules and traditions will make the British six-month-old Christmas pudding feel like the most boring thing on Earth. We prepared a short overview of important days and dates you should know if you ever decide to spend the festive period in Eastern or Central Europe.


4 Weeks Before Christmas

According to the ancient unwritten law, thou shalt not mention the festive season before Advent. Did you think you could get away with hanging your decorations mid-November? Shame on you. Everyone knows you can first start talking about the festivities on the fourth Sunday before the big day. Nevertheless, you are always meant to have your Advent wreath ready by that time. For those who never seen such thing, the Advent wreath usually sits on your dinner table and has four candles symbolising four Sundays before Christmas. Each Sunday, you light another candle. By the time all four candles are burning, you are ready to start panicking about not having your presents wrapped.
Make sure you put your Advent wreath on a non-flammable surface as it is the second most common cause of fire in Czech households during December. After sparkles on Christmas trees, obviously.


4th December

Another important spell of festivities comes on the 4th of December. It’s the Saint Barbora’s Day and the name day for all Barboras/Barbaras. On this day, you are meant to put your snow boots on and go cut off some tiny cherry branches from the nearest cheery tree. What you must do is put these branches called Barborky into the water and wait. If they are in full blossom by Christmas Eve, you’re definitely getting married next year. No blossom means no marriage. Although traditionally it was considered a strictly girls’ business, I was brought up in an unusually egalitarian household and my brother was always allowed to have his own Barborky. He got married before me, so that shows you.


6th December

Just a day after the wholesome celebration of nature, Eastern Europeans have one of their first properly festive holidays. The sixth of December is Saint Nicolas’ day. And that’s when shit gets serious. The way it’s celebrated differs a region from a region, so the following description is specific to the area where I grew up – the mountains in the east of the Czech Republic

Every year, Saint Nicholas, or Mikuláš as we call him, visits house after house with his two companions to check up on the children, and to see if they were good, polite and helpful the last year. Good children are given sweets by his kind friend Anděl (angel – usually a lovely lady in a blond wig). Bad children get to meet Mikuláš’s other companion Krampus or as we call him – Čert. Let me tell you from a personal experience, you don’t want to meet Čert. Often described as “half-goat, half-demon”, Krampus is the definition of evil. He has a big smelly bag, where he puts naughty children before taking them to hell. I had the pleasure to have my head inside of that bag several times, and while hanging mid-air, I managed to confess every sin I committed that year. Even the ones I didn’t. Compared to Krampus, Spanish inquisition was a bunch of losers.

Additionally to being scared to death, some kids also put their special stockings beside their windows or front door before going to bed on that day. Overnight, Saint Nicholas fills the stockings with gifts and sweets or alternatively with coal and potatoes.


7th – 23rd December

After the horrors of Saint Nicholas, you have about two weeks when you can relax and spend time baking some Christmas cookies called cukroví. Controversially, there are people who would tell you that cukroví is actually superior to the Christmas dinner. Some families pride themselves on having up to 18 different types of cukroví prepared in advance. Which is a complete madness if you ask me, but each to their own. The most common ones are vanilkové rohlíčky, linecké, perníčky (gingerbreads), pracky, pusinky (meringues) and anything filled with rum or marzipan. My dad also makes his own vaječný likér (eggnog), which can only be described as a sumptuous creamy mixture of rum, slivovice and condensed milk of around 40% abv. There’s no such thing as Christmas without an eggnog hangover.

Another highly popular festive event of this period is getting your Christmas tree. While most of the people who live in bigger cities simply go to the nearest supermarket or flower shop, my dad always insisted on doing it the old-school way. His old-school way consisted of us venturing to the woods looking for lesní školka (forest kindergarden), where local forest rangers annually sell young Christmas trees. Each dad would be armed with a small saw and a flask of slivovice. While kids run around searching for their favourite tree, dads are free to degustovat (get merry) with some other dad’s plum vodka. In the end everyone leaves with a tree and three units in their bloodstream.


While Christmas is very well structured in Eastern and Central Europe, Scotland has more Christmas songs than it has traditions. Look out for our next blog post on Christmas Shenanigans, Part 2, in which we explain you on which date we celebrate the festive event – it’s not the 25th. And it’s not just about opening presents, they are quite a few other traditions that go beyond the actual Christmas date.

Scotland, why are you so messy?

Random fridges are not an unusual sight in Scotland

Scotland, we need to talk about recycling. You are a country with such formidable nature and heritage that is admired throughout the world. And yet, whether you hit the town on Sunday morning or drive along Loch Lomond to the north, there’s litter everywhere. So, tell me, Scotland, why are you so messy?


Growing up in the 90s in an eastern European country, I’ve witnessed how quickly things can change. In the space of ten years of my childhood, we came from having illegal wastelands in woods and omnipresent litter in towns to having clean streets and every small village enjoying its own recycling containers. Almost every small town now operates a recycling centre where its inhabitants can dispose of everything from old furniture, electronics, clothes to old batteries or bikes.

Try throwing a piece of paper on the ground in my hometown. I can assure you at least two people will appear from nowhere, telling you to pick it up (or swear at you and then pick it up themselves, depending on their age). Thanks to the massive educational campaign, partly backed by the state, recycling became a national sport and a part of our mentality. Because why would you want to, pardon me, “shit where you eat”? Sure, you’ll still find people who are not bothered about flattening their plastic bottles before placing them into a yellow container (yellow for plastic, blue for paper) but their numbers are getting smaller and smaller by every year according to the official statistics.

This is why I was so surprised when I moved to Scotland seven years ago. At first, I thought this might be an isolated Glasgow issue. But my first ventures outside the city proved me otherwise. Seeing all the empty cans and pieces of plastic scattered along the train rails on my way to Edinburgh, reminded me of the sadness I felt as a small child with the end of winter. Not only that my favourite season was coming to an end, but the melting snow revealed the ditches next to the road being full of miscellaneous dirty items that someone threw out of their car. And there’s nothing more depressing than slushy, brown snow exposing bits of old litter scattered around like frozen corpses on Mount Everest.


I remember when Glasgow City Council introduced the first recycling scheme for businesses. Back then, nobody at my work (I worked as a bartender in the city centre) knew how to recycle. I spent months fishing out cans of Irn Bru from the general waste and placing them into the see-through recyclable bin bags. And explaining to my colleagues that little sachets with sauces, although considered food by some, do not belong to the food waste.


Their reaction was mixed. Some said this wasn’t explained to them properly by the management (which is true, a printed A4 sheet of paper in the staff room will give you next to nothing), while others simply didn’t care. Forgive me, if this isn’t true, but one of my Scottish friends once presented me with the following theory, posing the issue in the context of cultural mentality. That is, no matter what your work position, education or social status is, people here sort of expect/are taught that “someone else will clean after them” or “it’s someone’s job to do that”. I’m not sure to what extent this might be true, nevertheless, it presents a complex idea behind the notion of Britishness and how that relates to contemporary Scottishness.

And then some actually listened and learned. If anything, I’ve left that place after five years with a warming feel that I helped at least thirty people with their recycling journey (we had a high staff turnover). So here I am, writing this article, hoping that someone will find it helpful the next time they need to bin something, and they might not be just quite sure what bin (or container) to use.

The following advice relates to household rubbish management, specifically in the area of Greater Glasgow. So please, bear in mind that things might be slightly different where you live.

 

What Belongs In Which Bin

Mixed recycling – Blue Wheelie bin

Plastic: cleaner and detergent bottles, milk and drinks bottles, toiletries and shampoo bottles

Cardboard: cardboard egg boxes, cardboard fruit and veg punnets, cardboard sleeves, cereal boxes, corrugated cardboard, toilet roll tubes

Paper: brown envelopes, magazines, newspapers, shredded paper, Yellow Pages

Metal Packaging: aerosols, drinks cans, food tins

General waste – Green Wheelie bin

Food waste – Silver Wheelie bin (Flats & Tenements) or Brown Wheelie bin (Kerbside Households)

Bread, cakes and pastries

Dairy products – cheese and eggs

Raw and cooked fish and meat (including bones)

Raw and cooked fruit and vegetables (including peelings)

Rice, pasta and beans

Teabags and coffee grounds

Uneaten food and plate scrapings

Glass bins – Big Wheelie bin (Flats & Tenements) or regular Purple Wheelie bin (Kerbside Households)

Glass bottles and jar

Garden Waste – Brown Wheelie bin

Flowers

Grass cuttings

Leaves

Plants

Prunings and twigs

Weeds

 

Common items that do not belong into the household waste and should be taken to a recycling centre:

Kitchen Oil – cooking oil and fat shouldn’t be poured down sinks as it can cause blockages. They can be put into a sealed container and taken to your local recycling centre.

Batteries – they are made from trillion different materials and need to be taken apart. Instead of chucking them to your general waste, take them to a recycling centre or a collection point in a supermarket.

Electrics – same as batteries. Although your old kettle seems to be made of plastic, don’t forget about the wiring and the heating element. Some local authorities collect small electrical items as part of their kerbside collection, otherwise, you can recycle these and larger items at selected retailers and at your Recycling centre.

Mattresses and old Furniture – consider selling them or simply donating them if they are in a good condition. If not, most furniture can be recycled at your local recycling centre and some local authorities may also provide a collection service.

Shopping bags – Many larger supermarkets accept your carrier bags as well as other plastic films – look for the message ‘recycle with carrier bags at larger stores – not at kerbside’ on the label.

Pay attention to what you put into your recycling. It actually makes a big difference:

“When the wrong items are put in a recycling container or bin it causes various issues along the way. First of all, it slows down the sorting process as these items then have to be removed by hand and the wrong item can then potentially damage machinery as it is not designed for this type of material.

Then, if too many of the wrong items end up in the recycling material stream and the contamination is deemed too severe – as it would take too long to sort by hand – the entire load is diverted to landfill or incineration meaning the time and effort put into recycling in the first place was wasted.” – Zero Waste Scotland

To know what to put into your recycling, always check the product’s packaging. Most of the items include packaging labels and recycling symbols that are usually self-explanatory. If you are still unsure, have a look at this handy article from Zero Waste Scotland.

 

Recycling centres (Glasgow):

Polmadie (425 Polmadie Rd, Glasgow G42 0PJ)

Shieldhall (Renfrew Rd, Glasgow G51 4SL)

Dawsholm (75 Dalsholm Rd, Glasgow G20 0TB)

Easter Queenslie (90 Easter Queenslie Rd, Glasgow G33 4UL) – van friendly

Household Waste Recycling Centres are open 7 days a week, 8-4pm (last entry at 3.45pm).

All centres now provide a full waste disposal service, accepting the following waste types:

  • Bags of household waste
  • Electrical Items (including lamps, tv screens and monitors)
  • White Goods
  • Mattresses
  • Wood (including small furniture)
  • Cardboard
  • Garden waste
  • Scrap metal
  • Rubble
  • Dry mixed recyclables, textiles
  • Cooking oil and engine oil
  • Hazardous household items such as solvent-based paint, pesticides etc
  • Car batteries

Glasgow located households can also get their bulky waste items collected by the council. Unfortunately, this service has been limited to request-only appointments under the current circumstance. More info here.


Online Resources

https://wasteless.zerowastescotland.org.uk/

https://www.recyclenow.com/

https://www.greenerscotland.org/

https://www.glasgow.gov.uk/recycling

 

Remember, it’s okay to make mistakes. I used to put plastic films into mixed recycling until the start of this year when I got told off by our binman. The important thing is to try and not be afraid to ask (or Google) if unsure.