A letter from Karen Moritz in the Czech Republic
I can’t believe it's Advent already! Like our churches in the United States, the congregations of the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren (ECCB) also celebrate Advent. The congregation I worship with in Bubene has a beautiful Advent wreath, suspended from the ceiling, which hangs above the Communion table/pulpit. The decorations and furnishings are simple but elegant. Many of the congregations worship in prayer rooms that are usually a part of a building that includes apartments for the pastor and other people related to the church. The congregations sing special Advent hymns and sometimes have special music or programs for the holidays. I joined the choir that rehearses in the Bubeneč prayer room, and we sang during worship last Sunday, the second Sunday of Advent.
In addition to church celebrations many people have gatherings marking the Advent season. Oliver Engelhardt, one of my co-workers here at the church headquarters, had a gathering in his home on the first Sunday of Advent. He and his family shared traditional foods from their home country, Germany, and from their new home here in Prague. They lit the first candle of the Advent wreath and we shared in a prayer. It was a lovely beginning to the holiday season.
Another regular part of Advent are the Vánoční Trhy, Christmas markets. Little booths are set up in many of the Náměstí or squares all around the city. They sell all kinds of traditional foods and drinks. My new favorite is Medovina, a honey wine served hot. It tastes great when you’re out in the cold shopping. Another traditional Christmas food is Tredelník, a pastry cooked on a grooved metal rod. They are rolled in cinnamon and sugar and usually served warm. In addition to the traditional foods one can find all kinds of craft items, from wood to needlepoint. The markets are usually crowded but quite festive.
Every week I lead an English Conversation Group. Several people from the office here join me, and we practice conversation skills in English. Today our topic was Christmas customs in the Czech Republic. I learned that many people don’t put up their trees until Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. They decorate their trees with lights and festive ornaments. Martin’s family has ornaments from Bohemia that are more than a hundred years old. They also put candles on their tree! I told him he had to take a picture of his tree because I want to see it. Doesn’t it sound wonderful?
And yes, many people here still prepare and eat carp for Christmas. In past centuries many Czechs enjoyed fish from the Baltic Sea. In the latter part of the 17th century, officials began to regulate fishing in the Baltic, so many people began to breed carp in the many lakes throughout the Czech Republic. Preparing and eating carp has become a Christmas staple. Many families also spend time baking special holiday treats for family and friends.
Of course we also have the usual office parties. Tuesday, former church employees joined us for an Advent celebration. During the coming week current employees will celebrate and participate in a lunch sponsored by the Synod Council.
In the midst of learning about and enjoying new customs, I miss a few of our traditions in the United States. I miss many of the Advent and Christmas carols I’m used to singing. I have gotten to sing a few carols in English. Our choir sang at the St. Clements Anglican Church that meets in the Svatý Kliment (Saint Clement) ECCB parish. In good Czech fashion we sang “Good King Wenceslaus” in English. This worship service was taped and will be aired on BBC 4 on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.
Another Christmas custom I miss is frosted Christmas cookies!
May the wonder and joy of this season be with us all on both sides of the pond!
I invite you to continue to hold in prayer:
- All the congregations involved in the partnership between the PC(USA) and the ECCB.
- Me, as I continue to learn Czech and settle into life here in the Czech Republic.
- For all Christians as we celebrate the birth of Jesus and marvel at the wonder of Immanuel.
In Joy and Peace,
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 200