In the Czech Republic, the Christmas tree is lit on Christmas Eve following a big meal. Holiday food includes fish soup, salads, vegetables, potatoes, eggs, and carp. This is topped off with a special Christmas cake laden with currents and almonds. According to tradition, there must be an even number of people seated at the table. There is an old superstition that if anyone leaves the table early, he will die the following year. As a result, everything is prepared and placed on the table before anyone is seated so that there is no need to get up before the meal is finished. Another superstition says that the flame of the candles on the dinner table should not be allowed to go out --- another sign of death.
After dinner, a bell will ring as a signal that the Christ Child has visited the home and has placed gifts under the tree. Some homes use strings of lights as part of their Christmas tree decorations while others use traditional candles placed in clip-on holders at the tips of the tree's branches. The ornaments are often the hand-blown glass creations of Czech artisans.
Later in the evening, the family heads for their parish church to attend Midnight Mass. The music will usually include the traditional "Czech Christmas Mass" (1796) composed by Jan Jakub Ryba, and perhaps some traditional Czech carols such as "Nesem vám Noviny" (Come All Ye Shepherds) and the world's best-loved carol, known in English-speaking countries as "Silent Night."
An ancient tradition shared by The Czech Republic and Poland involves cutting a branch from a cherry tree and putting it in water, indoors, to bloom. If the bloom opens in time for Christmas it's considered good luck, and also a sign that the winter may be short. The hope of early spring helps keep spirits up during the long dark winter.
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