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Christmas Eve traditions recalled

Christmas Eve passed for most people in Slovakia this year without the many unusual rituals and customs once observed, especially in rural areas.

Christmas Eve passed for most people in Slovakia this year without the many unusual rituals and customs once observed, especially in rural areas.

The head of the household would tie straw around the Christmas tree in order to give it the "warmth of Christmas" and to ensure a rich harvest the following autumn. Cattle were given wafers covered with garlic in the belief that this would keep them free from illness during the coming year, the TASR newswire wrote. During the Christmas holidays, all farm animals were treated to Christmas meals.

People fasted until the stars appeared. Christmas Eve dinner was the main meal of Christmas and was preceded by various rituals intended to protect the family from evil spirits and suffering, the crops against failure, and livestock against illness. The family would follow the father around the house as he swung an incense burner. The mother would make crosses with garlic above all doors and windows and the children would carry candles and recite the Lord's Prayer. Pulses, honey and garlic were eaten to symbolise wealth or to protect people's health.

Many superstitions were linked to the midnight Mass, which for Christians marked the end of the pre-Christmas fast. According to traditional beliefs, water in streams turned into wine, cattle began to speak, and the heavens opened up, allowing souls and angels to come down to Earth for the breadcrumbs left for them on the table. Christmas gifts were once an unknown concept in traditional Slovak culture, but the custom was brought to the country along with Christmas trees by German settlers in the 18th century. The Christmas tree was a symbol of Christmas and a symbol of life due to its green colour - the colour of nature.

Compiled by Zuzana Vilikovská from press reports
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