Advent is a period of four weeks that escalates with Christmas. In Slovakia, it is still a holy time that has very little to do with the commercial Christmas rush.
Advent is the time of preparing for the arrival of Christ in Christian tradition. But before Christianity came, people were getting ready for winter solstice. The two legacies merged to create a unique set of customs that represent the blending of the pagan and the Christian legacy.
Advent is filled with captivating traditions that unfold around the so-called witching days. These are rooted in the old days when people believed that on certain days, it was possible to communicate with the deceased and their spirits could visit our world to do both good and bad. This was also time for magic and peeking into the future.
Our ancestors lived off the land and their survival depended on the benevolence of nature. They did all they could to make sure the weather would be good, women and animals would be fertile, and harvest bountiful. It was also important to protect themselves from evil spirits, illness, misfortune, and death that abounded in the cold winter months.
This tradition was absorbed into Christianity and the withing days were transformed into saint feast days – St Catherine, St Barbora, St Lucias, St Andrew and St Thomas.
The customs, rituals, and traditions of the Advent escalate with Christmas Eve, the night when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. The day was accompanied by many rituals and customs. A strict fast is observed and dinner can only begin once the first stars appear in the sky.
It was a tradition to make a place at the Christmas table for a random passerby or souls who might wish to join their loved ones on this special day. The Bible and bread could not be missing at the table that had a metal chain wrapped around its legs – a symbol of family togetherness.
Dinner started with a prayer and then came folk rituals of halving an apple and cracking a nut. A clear star of seeds and a healthy nut indicated steady health in the new year. Single girls practiced customs that were supposed to help them attract suitors and marry within 12 months.
At midnight, our ancestors attended the Christmas Mass.
Christmas was not about gifts that were symbolic and humble. It was about gratitude, family and love.