How does Christmas eve look like in Zemplin? I recently had a chat about Slovakia and it’s incredible diversity when it comes to folklore, traditional clothing, and even people! It still fascinates me how a tiny country with distinct regions can have such a rich cultural heritage. One of a kind! I thought I’ll document a traditional Christmas dinner in Slovakia- Zemplín region.

First, of all, this is Zemplín:

Zemplín in red

Proportionally, it’s quite a big region sometimes divided to ‘Dolný Zemplín’ (‘Lower Zemplín’) – dominated by Východoslovenská Plain and ‘Horný Zemplín’ (‘Upper Zemplín’) with a slightly more mountainious relief of Poloniny mountains.

Historically, the region was strong (and still is) in agriculture which affected the lifestyle of our predecessors. Traditions centered around family and Christianity. Imagine hard-working men – heads of the houses – ‘gazdovia‘ who worked hard and were in charge of families’ estate – farming, animals- providing food (for own families and business as well), building, fixing, taking care of the house. Women were usually in charge of a household and helping with anything else. Kids were usually running around, playing in the village and helping with the household when they were slightly more grown-up. Usually, households were multi-generational – taking care of older grandparents.

Providing the geography and its history, the Zemplín region was never that rich. It consists of many villages with only a couple of ‘cities’ which have only a couple of ten of thousands of inhabitants.

More interestingly, the unintended consequence of this cultural constellation led to the fact that people of Zemplín lead quite an intense life, know how to party, dance and sing, are creative and fun. They can be quite a strong characters as well. The folklore is very unique, quick and lively. From my experience (as a dancer that trained until I was 18)- the dances of Zemplín get you to a whole a different state. When on stage, I felt I was having the time of my life each time. Check it for yourself here or here.

Getting back to the menu on ‘vilija‘ – Christmas eve. These are shots of our dinner from 24th December. It actually doesn’t include meat, only fried fish.

We start off with a prayer, a shot and a wafer or ‘the Host’ – which are usually made by parishes. We eat this with honey or garlic and salt (for a good health). My grand-grandmother used to make crosses on our foreheads with honey back in time.

Christmas Dinner Slovakia
Christmas wafer
Christmas dinner Slovakia the host
Yum

Then we move on to a soup! This one is made of pickled cabbage and a mix of mushrooms. It looks like ‘kapustnica’- a Slovakia’s traditional meal which contains a lot of meat and lot’s of other ingredients. Think of this one as a simple, vegan version. It’s incredibly sour and when I was little and hesitant, my family used to tell me to eat it in order to kill all of the bad bacteria in my gut. Which actually makes sense because of the pickled ingredients. Let that probiotic work its magic.

It can’t be that healthy – on the side, we eat this with a raised, slightly sweet white Zemplín kolach. Almost exclusively made and sold on Christmas, Easter, odpust festivities, weddings, Christenings or even funeral-feasts…

Cabbage soup with mushrooms Zemplin
Cabbage-mushroom soup

After that, we continue with ‘Mačanka’- a creamy soup that feels more like a sauce with a strong mushroom base made with a bit of a double cream. Incredibly tasty! Tastes even better on the second day.

Mačanka - mushroom soup Christmas Zemplin
‘Mačanka’

At this point, I’m pretty much done with eating but can’t resist one or two ‘bobaľky’. Little dumplings that are essentially from the similar dough like the kolach. Usually made with poppy seed sauce as a sweet treat, this is a savory version made with cabbage. Still delish!

Bobaľky
Bobaľky

It’s time to open presents, eat more sweets we baked the days before (I go for a bunch of caramel tartlet – healthy food comes after Christmas, right?) and watch traditional films -I’m actually bi-polar towards a number of them. I find Pelíšky hilarious but pretty traumatic and after watching, I haven’t ended up being anxious ever. Tři oříšky pro popelku is lovely but I’ve seen it 1000 of times already and can’t anymore. Perinbaba is a heavy, creepy stuff I can’t watch. There’s only one story I genuinely love – Princ a večernice. This one is particularly timeless, features great lessons on morals, great costumes and actors- Libuše, Brzobohaty, Menšík…

Princ a Vecernice
Princ a Vecernice
Lounging before I fall asleep well into food coma

For the ones that feel hungry by 10 pm, my dad makes a fried carp fish. I ate too many caramel tartlets so I completely skip this. And because it’s a bit too heavy. Fried carp fish with mayo-vegetable-potato salad. A lovely, very indulgent meal that takes ages to finish. As you could see on the pictures, we keep dried carp scales for luck and prosperity (placing a couple of these in our purses for the following year). I only have a cardholder and haven’t hacked this yet.

fried carp christmas

I hope you liked my little roundup and would love to learn more about your traditions! Please leave a comment with your fave Christmas traditions! 🙂