Sunday, December 6, 2009

Post 40: Final COMM 300 Blog

Well people it is the end of the semester, we are in the final week of classes, and this Blogging for Cmm 300 will now come to an end. It was an interesting class and I enjoyed reading, seeing, and discussing the different angles and aspects of different minorities within the United States and their struggles, triumphs, and continuos battles for proper representation. As a slight change of things I wish to post my final paper in my folklore class. I do this mainly because it is very Czech culture centric which brings a different light to traditions and holidays that we may not normally experience; which is partially what this class enjoyed discussing. To the Comm 300 class I wish you good luck and to Professor Bjorn thank you for the journey and understanding of cultural minorities! Happy Holidays everyone and good luck with your endeavors!

Michael Mullen Jr



Traditions, Festivals, and Holidays of the Czech Republic

There are many cultures that I am fascinated with but none has touched me in a way more profoundly than the culture and country of the Czech Republic. My girlfriend being born and raised within this country, she has told me over the near two year length of our relationship, of the different traditions, holidays, and foods of her homeland and how much they mean to her. Having a new fascination for the country that I am sure I will be visiting in the not too distant future, I decided to compose this paper in honor and recognition of the Czech Republic and the new found intrigue surrounding it. Their country is nestled in the “heart of Europe” surrounded by the countries of Germany, Poland, Slovakia, and Austria. The country was more than likely founded around the 5’th Century A.D. by Slavic tribes that settled themselves in the regions of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. This is the heart and soul from which small tribes gave birth to a country of rich history, classic European diversity, and a well known traditions, festivals, foods, and beer. But it was not without its struggles to achieve the status in which it has today.

Brief Czech Historical Summary

We now know that in the 5’th century the Slavic tribes settled themselves within the regions of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. So what had happened since then that has developed their country into what it is today? Well the Czechs founded the kingdom of Bohemia and the Premyslide dynasty, which ruled Bohemia and Moravia from the 10th to the 16th century. One of the Bohemian kings, Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor, made Prague an imperial capital and a center of Latin scholarship. The Hussite movement founded by Jan Hus (1369?–1415) linked the Slavs to the Reformation and revived Czech nationalism, previously under German domination. A Hapsburg, Ferdinand I, ascended the throne in 1526, however the Czechs rebelled in 1618, precipitating the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). Defeated in 1620, they were ruled for the next 300 years as part of the Austrian empire under full occupation. Full independence from the Hapsburgs was not achieved until the end of World War I, following the collapse of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

A union of the Czech lands and Slovakia was proclaimed in Prague on Nov. 14, 1918, and the Czech nation became one of the two component parts of the newly formed Czechoslovakian state. In March 1939, German troops occupied Czechoslovakia, and Czech Bohemia and Moravia became German protectorates for the duration of World War II. The former government returned in April 1945 when the war ended and the country's pre-1938 boundaries were restored. When elections were held in 1946, Communists became the dominant political party and gained control of the Czechoslovakian government in 1948. Thereafter, the former democracy was turned into a Soviet-style state.

Nearly 42 years of Communist rule ended with the nearly bloodless “velvet revolution” in 1989. Václav Havel, a leading playwright and dissident, was elected president of Czechoslovakia in 1989. Havel, imprisoned twice by the Communist regime and his plays banned, became an international symbol for human rights, democracy, and peaceful dissent. The return of democratic political reform saw a strong Slovak nationalist movement emerge by the end of 1991, which sought independence for Slovakia. When the general elections of June 1992 failed to resolve the continuing coexistence of the two republics within the federation, Czech and Slovak political leaders agreed to separate their states into two fully independent nations. On Jan. 1, 1993, the Czechoslovakian federation was dissolved and two separate independent countries were established—the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Czech Republic joined NATO in March 1999.

President Václav Havel left office in Feb. 2003, after 13 years as president. Over the years, Havel lost some of his immense popularity with the Czechs, who became disenchanted with his failings as a political leader. But internationally Havel has remained a massive figure of moral authority and courage. In March, Václav Klaus became the Czech Republic's second president. A conservative economist, he and Havel often clashed. In May 2004, the Czech Republic joined the EU. After an inconclusive election in June 2006, the political deadlock was broken in August, with rightist Mirek Topolánek appointed prime minister. His government resigned in October, after losing a no-confidence vote. He formed another government in January 2007. A year later, Topolánek's government narrowly survived another no-confidence vote. While the Czech Republic held a six-month rotating term as President of the EU, the government collapsed and Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek resigned after his center-right government lost a parliamentary vote of confidence in March 2009. (infoplease.com, 2009)

The Aftermath

It is clear that the Czech Republic has had its times of troubles and struggles. It is a peaceful country, with a loving and tight-knit family structure, and non-violent tendencies which is why, I believe, it was a country ripe with prospect to conquer and occupy. Much of its history has been under the influence of ruling countries, political Communism, and the iron fists of Europe’s warring past. However I maintain that through the intense struggles these people had to endure, the family traditions became extremely important to them and their identities. So much so, that even today these traditions are passed on and practiced within the many village communities located throughout the country. While Western Culture has prevailed in making a permanent residence within the capital city of Prague, suggesting a slight movement away from the old traditions, it seems clear that the old traditions are still extremely relevant and practiced with passion and remembrance.
There is also an extremely strong presence of the Czech culture located in Chicago, IL of the United States where many of these traditions and festivals are celebrated in America. So much so that one of the best governors Chicago ever had was the Czech citizen Anton Cermak who is forever hailed by the local Czech community as a strong, good, and moral leader who has become immortalized in everything from museums to streets bearing his name. However it is the traditions that I would like to begin to focus on and hope to shed some light on them to honor Czech Republic and its culture. This paper will be focused on only a handful of major holidays and festivals, but will hopefully inspire others to look into this truly rich culture.

A Traditional Czech Christmas

The Czech Christmas season begins with Advent four weeks before the 25th. St. Nicholas, who visits each village on the 6th accompanied by an angel and devil to symbolize the opposition between good and evil, provides another sign of Christmas' approach. The Christmas season is traditionally a time for fortune telling in the Czech Republic. On December 4th, St. Barbara's Day, people cut branches from cherry or morrello trees. They are placed in a warm corner in the hopes that they will bloom by Christmas Eve, a sign that the family will enjoy good fortune in the coming year. The shapes seen inside apple cores or those created by pouring hot lead into water were also thought to prophesize the major events of the next year. The three days from the 24th to the 26th are a time of family closeness and religious reflection for many Christians in the Czech Republic.

Those without close family members are often invited to join their neighbors in their celebrations, provided that no table has an odd number seated around it, as odd numbers on Christmas Eve are thought to bring bad luck. Nativity scenes in all sizes from miniature to larger than life models are set up in churches and in homes. In contrast to the more somber celebrations of Christmas, New Year's Eve festivities are extremely animated. Some people throw rowdy parties and others some have more gentle gatherings in restaurants, but almost everyone spends the evening of Silvester, December 31st, with friends celebrating the close of the holiday season. The typical food enjoyed on Christmas day would be a hearty thick soup often made of fish, a fried fish which is typically a carp, a traditional Christmas potato salad, with the entire meal garnished with many different kinds of sweet biscuits that was prepared in the days before-hand, and finished with a traditional hot apple strudel for dessert. (Holiday Traditions: Czech Republic, 2009)

Traditional Czech Easter

Easter in Czech Republic is known by the traditional name of 'Velikonoce'. Easter celebration in the country is a collage of colorful traditions and folk customs, dating back to pre-Christian times. Most of the traditions indigenous to the country are largely observed in villages and small towns. With the passing time, they have lost the symbolism and are now performed mainly for fun. Nonetheless, Easter is one of the prominent festivals in Czech Republic and calls for full fledged celebrations

In Czech Republic, the traditional name for Easter Monday is 'Whipping Monday', because on this day, the village boys symbolically 'whip' girls on the legs and buttocks. Young, live 'pussy willow' twigs are thought to bring a health and youth to anyone who is whipped with them. This braided homemade whip is called the 'Easter pomlázka'. While whipping the girl, the boy would recite an Easter carol or poem, usually asking for an egg or two. The girl would reward the boy with a painted egg or candy then offered a snack or drink (typically beer or wine) and tie a ribbon around his pomlázka. This tradition is still followed in many parts of Czech Republic.

Decoration of Easter eggs is one of the popular traditions associated with the celebration of the festival in Czech Republic. Hand-painted or decorated eggs (kraslice) are the most recognizable symbol of Easter in all of Europe. Different materials including bee's wax, straw, watercolors, onion peels, stickers are used to decorate the eggs. As a part of the traditions, young girls decorate Easter eggs to give them as presents to boys, on Easter Monday. Easter Sunday (Nedele velikonocní) is a day of preparations for Easter Monday. While the girls are occupied with painting, coloring and decorating eggs, boys prepare their pomlázkas. A nationwide Easter egg contest is held in Prague and other Czech cities around Easter time.

On Easter, people in Czech Republic eat delicious sweet delicacies that are prepared especially for the festival. Usually, traditional Czech Republic recipes are made for the ceremonious occasion. Czechs eat a type of coffee bread called 'Babovka'. 'Mazanec' is another special Easter food, which is a yeast-raised cake filled with almonds, raisins and citron. A cross is cut into the top of the cake, just before it goes into the oven. Easter gingerbread, Easter Ram Cake, Judas Cake, 'God’s Mercy' (a type of doughnut sprinkled with sugar) are some more of the traditional sweet snacks served on Easter Sunday. (iloveindia.com, 2009)

The End of Winter, and the Burning of Witches

April 30 is "pálení čarodějnic" ("burning of the witches") or "čarodějnice" in the Czech Republic Czechs gather to build a bonfire and prepare an effigy of the witch that kept winter around so long. Czechs used to believe that the power of witches would weaken as the weather got warmer. So they thought that if they made something that looked like a witch and burned it, they could finally get rid of the cold weather. First, they tie two large sticks together to form a cross. Then they stuff old shirts, pants and socks with straw and place a pointed hat on the top of the stack. The witch is tied to a broomstick and set aside until darkness falls. When the fire is roaring, people roast sausages on sticks, strum guitars, and sing their favorite songs. Everyone looks forward to nightfall, when they will face the spirits of the witches. As soon as it's dark, the effigy of the witch is brought out and held up for all to see. Then, with a heave of the arm, it is thrown on top of the bonfire. As the witch burns, so does the last of winter's chill. (Chudoba, 2009)

Name Day Celebration

Ever feel like a birthday is not enough? Want more reasons to celebrate your existence on this wonderful word? Well why no discover over 365 Czech names that are part of the Czech calendar! In the Czech Republic, every day of the year is someone's name day ("svátek" or "jmeniny" in Czech - the latter is more formal). It is a reason to celebrate, wish the person a Happy Name Day, and buy a little present, like flowers and a box of chocolates. However always remember to never give anyone an even number of flowers! Such bouquets are used at funerals. The number should be an odd number such as 1, 3, 5, etc. The typical food eaten when more formally celebrated is any type of prepared chicken, rolls, and vegetables (primarily potatoes) along with beer or wine. (Czech Name Days, 2009)


Conclusion

It is amazing to me that despite being worlds apart, the traditions celebrated in the Czech Republic have striking similarities between them and ours in the United States. However to them the holidays typically take on a different form unique to their culture and heritage. In this day and age it is encouraging to see unique traditions to help celebrate the diversity and differences that make each of our country’s unique and special to our hearts. This uniqueness is only amplified since I am involved in a relationship with someone of this culture and I owe her my respect and gratitude for teaching me the folk customs of her homeland, bringing Czech a little closer to me and injecting her culture into my own family. I hope that this paper has given the reader a small taste to the treasures that await within the Czech Republic and encourages them to explore the cultural uniqueness within.

2 comments:

  1. Have a happy Holidays as well!

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  2. Thanks for this post, and for all your hard work throughout the semester! I think it's really cool that you're embracing Czech culture....best regards and Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones! Have a great 2010! AHOJ!!!

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