What expats say: This was my Christmas in Brno

Helen IIIn the January issue of the BEC Newsletter we announced a competition. You – our expats – were invited to be creative and share your  (not only Czech) Christmas stories and pictures. And some of you truly did! As a result, we are happy to introduce you to our winner – Helen Pelipecki.  This charming Brazilian sent us an eloquent and warm account of her (very first) Czech Christmas as well as several photos which earned her the two tickets for a ballet performance of her choice in the National Theater of Brno. Congratulations! Et voilà, Helen´s story:

Helen Xmas cards Helen pastry Helen Slobodak

This was my first Christmas in the Czech Republic – and I was definitely excited about it! Being originally a Brazilian born to a Spanish mother and a Polish father, I met my boyfriend while studying and working in Atlanta, United States… and love has brought me to the Czech lands. Both of my parents are deceased (my mother when I was 8, my dad a few weeks before I moved to the US in 2009), so Christmas hasn’t really been seen as a huge thing for my family since my mom’s passing, and I had to deal with the holiday on my own since moving out of my home country. I was scared and thrilled at the same time – scared of getting attached to a family again after losing my own (Josef is my first boyfriend) and thrilled for being blessed with a new beginning!

After all the excitement settled down, the freaking out started – I have been here for just five months, and that counts for saying that I don’t know his family as much as I’d like to so that I could buy proper gifts… and count to that the fact that I am TERRIBLE at buying gifts…. basically imagine this Brazilian (being as emotional as we naturally are) going from scared to thrilled to freaking out in a few minutes. I survived buying gifts while walking around and seeing one of the Czech traditions in front of me – parents carrying their children and dogs everywhere, sometimes dragging them through the snow that was falling (in a really funny way) and the poor carps in improvised tanks through the streets, going home in plastic bags begging for their lives to be thrown into a bathtub waiting for the time of their “sacrifice” – I can’t even begin to tell you I cried every single time I saw those fish waiting to be bought… being an animal lover, coming from a Brazilian island (of course we eat fish all the time) we simply eat the meat – but we never see the animal dying or question how that happened… here you have my trauma #1 on  my first Czech Christmas. Another thing to comment is… carps would never be considered a meal in Brazil – they are seen everywhere in parks in huge open tanks, but never in my life I had heard about people eating them… there’s a first to everything, right? 🙂

The beauty – and yumminess – of the Christmas markets is amazing! All the cakes, the mulled wine, the good beer is fantastic! On the days previous to Christmas I was also invited to attend several Christmas parties, got to see people exchanging gifts and of course… tons of alcohol. That’s another first for me – I’ve never seen people drinking so much in gatherings like here, and being able to hold themselves up and go home on their own! It’s definitely an incredible feature, and considering the amazing beer and wines this country has to offer… no doubt the Czechs are known for the biggest consumers of beer in the whole world!

Being here, I was able to see snow at Christmas for the first time – and cried while being in awe of that many times! I truly felt at home and back to my good days in Brazil, that while being in a completely different country having a language I don’t fully understand being spoken around me – I’ve heard many times that people often forget what you say, but not how you make them feel… and I’m living proof of that. I spent the full holiday with my boyfriend’s family – days before helped with putting the Christmas tree together, then saw the mother and daughters now married and with kids preparing all the delicious sweets.

On the 24th of December we were still baking while watching traditional Czech Christmas fairy tales on TV and on the notebook placed on the kitchen table. We had lunch around 12 that the mother called “poor lunch”, made of soup and some baked potatoes and eggs. The day followed with the movies, the Christmas tree being packed up with gifts that here the Czechs say to be brought by “little Jesus” (children write letters to him several days before Christmas asking for what they would like to have as their presents), until the time of the main dinner come – around 20:00. At that time, we had a toast with wine and champagne, followed by eating fried carp along with potato salad. I was eating carp for the first time, and having traveled quite a bit, I made sure to Czech the traditions on the Internet behind Christmas here so that I wouldn’t embarrass myself in front of my boyfriend’s family – and running the risk of never being invited back again. I’m thankful I did that… because the carps have many bones and people diligently eat it, in an operation that can take quite a while – and being someone so used to eating fish, my first instinct would be putting chunks inside my mouth – just try to imagine the tragedy! I survived eating the carp – which tasted wonderful! – then we went to eating the sweets – cookies made with chocolate, butter, coconut, dried fruits, ginger – while opening the gifts. Coming from a tropical country, guess what I got mostly as gifts? Scarves, gloves, tea and chocolate – and the following days proved that the family was right in presenting me those things. We kept eating, drinking wine and beer, watching movies, enjoying the new gifts and talking about our cultures until really late. The next day brought a wonderful breakfast with all those fantastic sweets and the family lunch with the families of the two married daughters – this time we had special pork pieces – the most noble ones – from the Zabijacka that had happened weeks before along with the wonderful bread my mother-in-law prepares.

I can’t thank enough God for how kind people were to me in those days – I was missing what’s left of my family, my married sisters and nephews, but felt really welcome into my new “home”. More than being seen as a foreigner, they made me feel as one of them. My boyfriend surprised me by calling one of my sisters as my Brazilian family was reunited in my hometown having our traditional barbecue with turkey, potato salad, tons of fruits and cold drinks to face their weather… as we had – 2 Celsius here in Brno on Christmas with snow falling… my sisters and nephews were under 41 Celsius – and I had to hear them talking about going to the beach, located one block away from their house. Torture? A little, I would say – but I guess I have found my home away from home, so of course I cried while listening to my sisters speaking… but still felt blessed with the gift given of being here in the Czech Republic, living in the middle of something I had dreamed of for so long.

Being as frank as the Czechs are, you can bet I didn’t escape indiscreet questions during the family lunch – when we are going to get married, when we are going to have a baby and so on… but the months here have made me adjusted to the culture I want to one day fully call my own.

Christmas here was completely different from what I had faced for the 4 previous years in the United States… Czech Christmas is family-oriented, filled with team work, traditions and about people who love gatherings – and that blessed me beyond words!

I survived my first Czech Christmas… and I’m definitely looking forward the next ones! 🙂

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