What traditions and customs are there in Slovakia?
Let’s get to know the customs and traditions of Slovakia from the inside.
Food in daily life
Slovak food exhibits a lot of regional variation, but is generally based on soups, cooked and boiled vegetables, cooked fruits, smoked meats (especially sausages), roast meats, porridge, and dairy dishes. Sheep’s cheese with dumplings, bryndzové halušky, is one of the most typical dishes in Slovakia.
Traditionally in peasant households, five meals were eaten: early in the morning upon rising (raňajky), a snack at ten o’clock in the morning (“desiata”), the main meal of the day at noon (“obed”), another snack around four in the afternoon (“olovrant”), and dinner in the evening after homework (“večera”).
Tea with sugar is the most popular hot drink. Bread is served with every meal, and hot soup is a fixture as a first course at the midday main meal, with meat dishes also commonly served at that time.
Dinner is usually light and may include bread, cheese, and vegetables. Beer, wine, juices, and carbonated water or flavored soft drinks are served with most meals. The main distilled beverage is plum brandy (“slivovica”), and borovička (gin) is very popular.
Food customs on ceremonial occasions
Special foods are prepared for a number of religious festivals.
On Christmas Eve, the meal is meatless and usually begins with a blessed wafer that is sprinkled with honey. An alcoholic drink based on honey called medové is also prepared for this occasion.
A vegetable-based soup is served first, followed by small pieces of baked dough that are soaked in milk and topped with a sweetened mixture of poppy seeds. At Christmas and other festive occasions, a roast goose may be served, along with a sausage (“klobása”).
On special occasions there are also fresh sausages (“jaternica”, for example) made from barley, pork, blood and rice. There is toast with alcoholic beverages and a dessert of small cakes made with fruit or cheese fillings or log-shaped strudels with walnut or poppy seed fillings. Salads tend to be made of sliced cucumbers prepared with a light sweet and sour dressing or sour cream.
Slovaks keep a typical Western distance (about three feet) when conversing. Greetings are expected, and consist of “good morning,” “good day,” and “good evening.” “Good night” is reserved for the last take of leave of the night.
Both men and women shake hands with newly introduced acquaintances and strangers, and men and women may kiss close friends and relatives on both cheeks during greeting and parting.
For business and other professional activities, men are expected to wear suits and ties, while women still adhere to a code that includes dresses or two-piece suits with skirts or skirts and blouses.
Lunches tend to be long with several courses served because the midday meal is the main meal of the day. During a home visit, food and drink are immediately placed on the table. Refreshments are supposed to be accepted graciously, and empty plates and glasses are quickly refilled.
It is customary to bring flowers, food (cakes) or a drink when visiting people’s homes. Business lunches and home visits are likely to include the offering of alcoholic beverages. Women can usually politely decline and ask for a soda or hot tea. Men are expected to drink, but may decrease if they are driving.
The monks Cyril and Methodius brought Christianity to the Great Moravian Empire in the 9th century, but there is evidence of an earlier traditional religion among the West Slavs that included a pantheon of supernatural beings. Today, between 70 and 75 percent of Slovaks are Christian, and the majority (60.3 percent) are Roman Catholic. This figure includes the Roma, most of whom are Catholic.
Other major religions are Evangelical Lutheran, nearly 7 percent; Orthodox Christian, 4.1 percent; and Judaism (greatly reduced by the Holocaust), about 1 percent). Atheists may make up almost 10 percent of the population, with other religions (especially Christianity) making up the rest.
Full-time religious practitioners include priests, ministers, and rabbis. In many communities, religious leaders participate in secular events and celebrations alongside political officials. Political leaders no longer control their activities, as before 1989.
Rituals and sacred places
Slovaks affiliated with the major religions worship in established churches or synagogues. Christians perform funeral rites in cemeteries, and some groups visit special holy areas. The Roman Catholic Church of Saint Jacob in Levoča is one of the most important sanctuaries. In eastern and central Slovakia, Roman Catholics place offerings of flowers and sometimes scarves at separate crosses in the countryside.
Death and the afterlife
Slovak Christians believe that the soul survives death and bury their dead underground in cemetery plots instead of cremating them. In many villages, embalming was introduced as early as the 1980s, and wakes were commonly held at home before the widespread construction of houses of mourning in or on cemeteries.
In some communities, children from the same village are buried together in one or more rows of individual plots rather than with their families.
Mourning lasts nearly a year, and adult daughters and widows traditionally wear only black or subdued colors. Christian cemeteries tend to be located near churches, and it is common to see weeds and uncut grass there.
Jewish cemeteries fell into oblivion after the Holocaust. Many rural Christians believed that the ghosts of the dead could return and cause harm; some people still attribute various kinds of misfortune to the activities of ghosts.
Slovaks celebrate a number of holidays, several of which are related to the calendar and Christian beliefs. January 1 is New Year’s Day and Independence Day. January 6 is Epiphany, a Christian festival celebrated especially in Catholic communities, where children dress up as the Three Wise Men and go in a procession from house to house.
Other Christian spring holidays in the public calendar are Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday, when young single men would visit the homes of young single women and trade them with whips made of willow branches tied with ribbon and they sprayed them with cologne.
May Day (May 1), a survival of a much older annual round of Slavic and Slovakian festivals that meant the great celebration of spring, was transformed during the decades of communism into a celebration of the workers, with political speeches and demonstrations of military force. The liberation of the Slovak Republic is commemorated on May 8.
Another Christian and national holiday (mainly observed by Catholics), July 5 honors Saints Cyril and Methodius, who brought Christianity to the Slavs. August 29 marks the anniversary of the Slovak national uprising in World War II.
The Constitution Day of the new Slovak Republic is celebrated on September 1, and September 15 is another Christian holiday – Our Lady of Seven Sorrows. Many Christians observe All Saints’ Day on November 1; family plots are visited in cemeteries, where candles are lit. Christmas, the last party of the year, is celebrated on December 25, and December 31 is the Silvestre party (New Year’s Eve).
Annual local secular celebrations often include a festival and parade at the end of the school year, and events marking the end of the grain harvest are held in agricultural areas. This festival is called dožinky and is usually held in August. In early fall, oberačky celebrates the harvest of apples and other late-season orchard crops. These secular local events include parties and dances.
The arts and humanities
Popular handicrafts have been supported by the government through the Popular Art Production Center (ULUV). The center has promoted these arts abroad through numerous exhibitions. However, in many areas, state subsidies for the arts dried up after 1989, and artists have had to find other means of support.
Slovak folklore has a long oral tradition of storytelling. In general, the stories fall into two categories: folk tales that have a wide geographical distribution in Slovakia and tales that come from personal accounts that can be told for only one or two generations in an individual family.
Formal written literary language emerged in the 18th century and was codified in the 19th century. Poetry was established in the 19th and 20th centuries as a vehicle for the national spirit. While male poets were prominent in the public sphere, the recent publication of Norma Rudinsky’s Incipient Feminists: Women Writers in the Slovak National Revival has revealed poems written by women.
Although books were affordable before 1989 thanks to government support, the communist regime controlled and supervised what was published. After 1989, the publication’s state financial sponsorship entered a transition period, resulting in price increases for most books.
Slovakia has a rich artistic and craft heritage. Modra, in southwestern Slovakia, has been a center for the production of fine pottery beginning in the 17th century and now exhibiting a distinctive folk form that incorporates historic designs and firing techniques. Painting, sculpture, woodcarving, glass (crystal) making, and other graphic arts enjoyed a decade of expansion and access to new markets after 1989.
There are shops operated by regional artists’ associations selling works, and new outlets have been established in Western markets. Modern art has its roots both in Slovak folk themes and in European art in general.
Most graphic artists belong to associations or special organizations; there are galleries and exhibitions in cities and towns and in many museums. Art exhibitions appear occasionally in the towns.
A particular type of graphic art involving wire and metalwork was produced by Slovak craftsmen from the Upper Vah or Spis river valley. Their production of utilitarian household items such as candle holders is considered an art form.
The performing arts fall into three main categories: folk, formal and/or classical, and modern and contemporary. Folk shows are usually local events, many of them in rural areas, and are most often held in the summer. They are often associated with particular holiday dates or special commemorative events, such as the first mention of a town in historical records.
Folk music, folk dances, skits and musicals, and mock weddings with participants dressed in traditional costumes remain popular. Some folk shows have a national or even international scope, such as the Východná festival in July.
Traditional music ranges from groups that play string instruments and clarinets to groups that play brass instruments. Slovak music is said to have been influenced by both liturgical and chamber music, but in the first half of the 19th century a national musical tradition emerged that was mainly based on folk themes.
There are numerous formal and/or classical and modern and/or contemporary representations. There are orchestras and chamber groups in many cities, with the largest groups having their headquarters in Bratislava. In 1986 a chamber opera was founded to provide an outlet for new performers in a kind of alternative theatre.
There are theaters throughout Slovakia where theatrical performances, plays, operas and puppet shows are performed before enthusiastic audiences. Cinema has become an important element of Slovak performing art since the 1960s.
Although many restrictions were placed on films made before 1989 and those films were expected to further a political agenda, some works achieved international renown, such as The Shop on Main Street. In the 1990s, due to lack of state funding, the main film studio closed, but Slovak filmmakers have continued their work.
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