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Once isolated by the Iron Curtain, the country of Slovakia is slowly but surely emerging to become one of Europe’s “hidden gems,” according to billboards in its capital city, Bratislava. Yet despite Slovakia’s dismal past, there’s one time of year chock-full of quaint traditions that brings cheer and joy: the season of Christmas.

In Slovakia, many of the Christmas festivities take place on Christmas Eve, December 24. Interestingly, though, on the night of December 5, Slovakian children polish their shoes and leave them on their doorstep. According to tradition, that evening Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, drops by and fills each shoe with chocolates and other delicious sweets.

Much of the baking and food preparation for the holiday begins one to two weeks prior to Christmas Eve. Women typically bake seven or eight different kinds of delectable cakes, cookies and pastries, often fashioned into star or bell shapes. A special poppy speed apple strudel is particularly synonymous with Christmas in Slovakia.

On Christmas Eve morning, many people begin their Christmas shopping. Stores are filled with men and children, since many women are home preparing the meal. Christmas trees are also put up and decorated on this morning. Lights, ornaments and a small chocolate candy are the decorations found on most trees.

In the afternoon, Christian families go to a special Christmas Eve church service. When they return home, Christmas dinner is served. A traditional Slovakian dinner consists of Kapustnica, a Christmas soup made with sauerkraut, salami, dried mushrooms and dried prunes. Potato salad comprising potatoes, mayonnaise and vegetables is also standard fare. The main course features grilled carp or another type of fish. Some families buy a live carp that morning, and the father grills the fish for the evening meal. Some people pluck a small scale from the fish to keep for “good luck” in the coming year. After dinner, families exchange presents and enjoy dessert together. Children usually receive toys brought by the “Angel of Christmas.” The next two days are national holidays observed for visiting friends and family.

Despite these happy Christmas traditions, many Slovakians don’t know the true meaning of Christmas. TWR is working in Slovakia to give the ultimate gift to those who wish to receive it: the gospel. To give toward a TWR-Slovakia radio program that spreads the real reason for the season to Slovakians, please click here.