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CHRISTMAS TODAY AND YESTERDAY

Two Christmas traditions blended into one

THEY come from different environments, and each was raised to celebrate Christmas in their own way. Illustrator Miroslav Cipár, 68, grew up in a remote village in the northwestern region of Kysuce, and his wife Vilma, 63, was born in the Slovak capital in the southwest. After they married in 1959, they compromised on how to Christmas, mixing their different traditions together, and have been celebrating the festive season in their own style ever since.


THE CIPÁRS with their dog, Linda.
photo: Zuzana Habšudová

THEY come from different environments, and each was raised to celebrate Christmas in their own way. Illustrator Miroslav Cipár, 68, grew up in a remote village in the northwestern region of Kysuce, and his wife Vilma, 63, was born in the Slovak capital in the southwest. After they married in 1959, they compromised on how to Christmas, mixing their different traditions together, and have been celebrating the festive season in their own style ever since.

While Miroslav claims that combining the two different traditions was a difficult process, Vilma objects: "The differences weren't so big, because we both have Christian backgrounds and we rejoice in the birth of Jesus."

When Miroslav lived in his village, Christmas Eve began in the early afternoon, when a special loaf of bread was baked and fed to the animals.

"My mum sanctified the farm and the house with holy water, blessing the place with prayers, which we obviously didn't learn," Cipár laughs.

The family then gathered at the table, on which were laid all the "fruits of the earth", as the Slovaks say: potatoes, apples, onions, garlic and wheat. Each member cut an apple in half horizontally. If the seeds were arranged in the shape of star, the person could expect happiness in next year, while a cross shape meant bad luck. A person's happiness increased if he or she received the slice of a large loaf of damper bread that contained a pea. And everybody carefully watched the direction of the burning candlewick, because whoever it pointed to was expected to die within the next year.

"As children we were horrified by this, so we secretly manipulated the candle so it didn't point to anybody."

Christmas Eve dinner began with wafers with honey and garlic, followed by Jesus's Porridge (a very fine barleycorn porridge, believed to have been eaten by baby Jesus). Then, kapustnica (cabbage soup) was served into the same bowl. "It was a very poor one, cooked only from the water my mother extracted with a dipper from the barrel, with sauerkraut and only a few feathers [pieces of cabbage] swimming in it. We ate it with small boiled potatoes, which we called 'peanuts'," Cipár explains.

Then carp with a simple potato salad dressed with vinegar and onions followed. At the end of the meal they ate pupáky s makom - baked dough broken into pieces on a plate, sprinkled with poppy seeds, sugar and butter and covered with hot milk.

"After dinner, we set out on an hour-long walk in deep snow to the neighbouring village for midnight mass. When we returned, we finished what was left from the dinner, as it was prohibited to clean up before."

On the other hand, his wife Vilma celebrated a city Karácsony (Christmas in Hungarian: As Bratislava was an important center during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Hungarian language is strongly embedded there).

"We had fish soup, followed by carp and a richer potato salad than what my husband's family prepared - with apples, peas, carrots and yogurt. After dinner we had plenty of cakes, which was my mother's specialty, including the typical Bratislava makovník and orechovník [poppy-seed and walnut strudles]. Then we all went to sing around the Christmas tree.

"At midnight, we used to go to two masses, first to a Hungarian one at St Františkáni Church and then to a Slovak one at St Martin's Cathedral."

This year the Cipárs will celebrate their own kind of Christmas for the 44th time, mixing the original traditions with their own modifications. The dinner is a compromise between Miroslav's Jesus porridge, cabbage soup and pupáky, and Vilma's carp and potato salad.

For Vilma, their Christmas begins with Advent, when she starts baking honey cakes - artistic creations her husband carves out of the dough with a razor. "When our daughter lived with us, the two used to see who could carve the most original shape," Vilma says.

Calling her the "Christmas Mother", her husband claims Christmas for his wife is a year-round matter. In summer, Vilma goes to pick herbs and mushrooms, which she later dries and packs in bags she made herself. She also picks currants and makes jam out of them. At Christmastime she gives these things and the honey cakes as gifts to her friends.

On Christmas Eve the couple first goes to a cemetery to light candles, then to Horský Park to hang bacon and honey cakes for the birds and squirrels. After midnight mass, they meet with their friends back in the forest park and wish each other Merry Christmas.

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