Friday, December 23, 2011

Holidays - Stedry Vecer: Slovak Christmas Eve

I am not Slovak but enjoyed learning the customs of my husband's Slovak-American family, and these customs seemed the most pronounced on Christmas Eve and on Easter. I'd already discussed their Easter meal HEREand with Christmas Eve rapidly approaching it's time to highlight the Slovak traditions that my in-laws celebrated on that night.

My mother-in-law gave me this cookbook many years ago:


My edition was published in 1980 and was the 21st printing of this cookbook. It comes from the First Catholic Slovak Ladies Association, a fraternal organization, and is still available. It's now in its 26th printing (the cookbook was originally produced to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the FCSLA). 

On page 8 of my cookbook is the following menu:

Stedry Vecer means "Bountiful Evening" in Slovak and it's easy to see why, with such a listing of foods involved. No, my mother-in-law did not serve all those foods, but she did always serve "fish", which in their case meant delectable perch from nearby Lake Michigan. She served mushroom soup and there were usually nut and poppyseed rolls as well. 

The whole family enjoyed the distribution of oplatky, which are dry and wafer-like. They don't have much taste, but with honey they seem more edible. It was customary for everyone to break pieces off their oplatky to pass around to the others present at the meal.

My mother-in-law didn't make bobalky but told me that her mother did. I've never tried it but it doesn't seem to me like I'm missing much. The recipe within this cookbook describes how to make it: To begin, make one pound of a rich bread dough and cut it into small pieces; bake until lightly browned. Then, for no apparent reason (to me, I stress) - pour boiling water over these baked bread pieces, then add a mixture of cooked ground poppyseed, milk and sugar and mix all together. So basically it sounds like you end up with a mush of some sort. I'd just make the bread in a loaf and stop there! 

My mother-in-law did serve her famous three-bean salad, so she supplied the "beans" listed on the above page, but I don't recall things like dried fruits and mixed nuts being present. That didn't matter to me, as the fish and the nut and poppyseed rolls were the stars of the show as far as I was concerned. 

My mother-in-law also gave me the following years ago:

I don't know where she got it from, but it was published by the Slovak Institute and The Friends of Good Books. My edition was published in 1978. 

This volume describes many customs of the Christmas season in Slovakia, beginning with the Feast of St. Andrew (Nov. 30th) and ending with the Feast of Epiphany (Jan. 6th.) I have no idea how many of the customs are still followed in Slovakia, but they were fun to read about. In regards to Stedry Vecer, there appeared to be a number of fortune-telling rituals that occurred on this night.

I don't recall my in-laws and their friends performing fortune-telling customs, but I know that other rituals were followed: some of my in-laws' friends put straw under their table on that night to remember the birth of Christ in a manger. Some would eat garlic - for good health, I think. My mother-in-law did neither, but she did have the family "wash" (ie, rub) their hands with a silver dollar for prosperity. 

The Slovak Christmas book also contains a number of traditional carols with Slovak and English words included. My husband didn't learn all the carols, but his church sang the following:

Between attending their Midnight Masses a few times and having heard my husband and his siblings sing it over the years, even I can sing this carol - or at least try to! Slovak is a tongue-twisting sort of language to me. 

Well, at this point in time my husband's parents are dead and the church from which their Slovak Christmas carols used to ring out every year closed before they had even died. However, I do like to carry on the Stedry Vecer custom in some fashion. We haven't always been able to get oplatky, but I picked up lake perch today for tomorrow's dinner - and bought mushrooms to make my husband mushroom soup. I'd be happy to make nut and poppyseed rolls - but he doesn't like them, so I don't. We'll just have Christmas cookies for dessert. 


And before you know it, not too long after eating our Stedry Vecer meal it'll be time to say "Vesele Vianoce" - that's Slovak for "Merry Christmas"!

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