Czech Republic

Traditions and customs of the Czech Republic

What customs and traditions are there in the Czech Republic?

A review of the traditions and customs of the Czech Republic, in the very center of Europe.

Food and economy

Food in daily life

The traditional Czech diet can be considered heavy, with an emphasis on meat, potatoes, and meatballs, and the use of substantial amounts of animal fats, butter, and cream.

Meats – mainly pork, beef, poultry, and organs such as liver, kidneys, brains, and sweetbreads – are often prepared with gravy and eaten with potatoes or dumplings (knedlíky). Soups are an important part of the midday meal.

Potato and tripe soups are a favorite, as is beef or chicken broth with tiny liver or bone marrow dumplings. The most commonly used vegetables are carrots, peas, and cabbage. Salads were eaten only seasonally until recent years.

The Czechs have always enjoyed sweets. The most common are fruit dumplings (made with plums or, in winter, preserved apricots) served with grated farmers’ cheese and breadcrumbs browned in butter, with sugar sprinkled on top. Meatballs are often served as a meal.

Popular sweet bakery products include buchty, small rectangular yeast breads with a filling of jam or preserves; koláče, small cakes made of white flour with an indentation on the surface to fill with poppy seeds, plum jam or sweetened farmhouse cheese; a semi-sweet cake (“bábovka”) made from yeast dough and baked in a fluted tube pan; thin pancakes spread with jam, rolled up and covered with powdered sugar (palačinky); small raised pancakes (“lívance”); and apple strudel (‘jablkovýzávin’ or ‘štrúdl’).

The national drink is beer (“pivo”); some good national wines are produced in Moravia. Domestic plum brandy is called slivovice (slivovitz).

Especially during the last ten to twenty years, there have been marked changes in the Czech diet. The freshest vegetables are consumed throughout the year by those who can afford imported food; vegetable shortenings, oils and margarine are replacing animal fats; and a variety of mixes are used to prepare soups and dumplings.

What people eat today is heavily influenced by what they can afford: good cuts of beef and pork are expensive, but poultry is much more affordable.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

The typical Sunday dinner menu is still svíčková: fillet of beef marinated in vinegar and spices before roasting, served with a rich sour cream sauce and almost always accompanied by meatballs. Also popular for specialty meals are roast duck, pork or goose with meatballs and sauerkraut.

On Christmas Eve, almost the entire country eats the traditional breaded and fried carp, and on Christmas Day, roast turkey is found on many tables.


The social interaction is not very different from that of other Central European countries; compared to that of the United States, it is quite formal. This formality is due in part to the Czech language, which has two second-person personal pronoun forms.

The ‘family’ form is used to address a family member, a good long-term friend, a child or a child, or a child addressing another child. The “polite” form is used in more formal situations. It is not uncommon for colleagues of the same age who work in neighboring offices to use the formal form when talking to each other.

The tendency towards formal behavior is reinforced by the tradition of the use of titles. The use of someone’s given name is limited to older members of the family addressing younger ones and very good friends.

It usually takes several years of daily contact before people know each other by first name. Much less informal contact reinforces the social distance between people. Because Czech apartments are small, invitations to visit and casual visits are only between good friends.

The Czechs stay away from each other unless they are passing on information that should not be overheard. Like other Europeans, Czechs don’t show as much consideration as they do in Britain or smaller cities in the United States when several people board a streetcar, bus, or train or wait to be served in a shop.

Their tendency to get ahead of others may reflect the experience of the socialist years, when people had to queue for scarce goods.

Because there are no significant differences in social equality based on position or ethnic origin (with the exception of Gypsies, who are frowned upon for allegedly committing petty theft), the rules of etiquette are similar for all members of society..

Because Czechs emphasize cleanliness, most take off their shoes when they enter private homes. They eat continental style, with fork in left hand and knife in right, and there is no special attempt at conversation at meals.

When attending cultural events, Czechs dress for the occasion, and young women try to follow the latest styles. Young people tend to be more informal and confident than their elders.


Religious beliefs

Christianity was brought to the Czech Republic area during the 9th century by missionaries from Germany to the west (Latin Rite) and from the Byzantine Empire to the southeast (Eastern Rite). The Eastern Rite missionaries were the brothers Constantine (later called Cyril) and Methodius, natives of Thessalonica in Macedonia.

They arrived in 863, invited by Rostislav (or Rastislav), ruler of the Great Moravian Empire, and devised the first Slavic writing system, in which they published parts of the Bible in a Slavic language that was intelligible to the local population.

The arrival of the Magyars in the middle of the Danube in the late 9th century and their subsequent incursions into the north caused the disintegration of the Great Moravian Empire and weakened the influence of the Eastern Rite. When a bishopric was established in 973 in Prague, the Roman Catholic missionaries had prevailed and Latin had become the liturgical language.

During the first half of the fifteenth century there was a break with Rome as a result of the reform movement initiated by Jan Hus.

After Hus was burned at the stake in Constance in 1415, his legacy became an enduring aspect of the national heritage. It was reinforced in the mid-16th century by the attempts of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor and Bohemian king, to bring the population back under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church.

After the army of the Bohemian States was defeated by Ferdinand II at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, Catholicism and Habsburg rule tended to be equated as symbols of foreign oppression.

Exact numbers of the membership of various denominations are not available; Approximate percentages are: Roman Catholic, 40 percent; Protestants, 4 to 5 percent; Orthodox, 1 percent; and disengaged atheists and agnostics, 54 percent.

Many Czech Catholics tend to be lukewarm in their faith. Moravian Catholics are more committed. Religious sentiments have always been felt and expressed more strongly in rural areas.

Since the end of World War I, strong secularist tendencies have been evident. The forty-one years of communist rule (1948 to 1989) further undermined religious practices and expressions: Those who regularly attend religious services are discriminated against in terms of career advancement.

After 1989, a resurgence of religious beliefs and observances became noticeable, especially among the young.

Before World War II, some 120,000 Jews lived on Czech lands. Except for those who married non-Jews and the relatively few who were able to emigrate, most Jews – around 80,000 – died in Nazi concentration camps. After the war, only a few of those who escaped the Holocaust returned.

religious practitioners

The Roman Catholic Church has archdioceses in Prague, founded in 1344, and Olomouc (Moravia), founded in 1777. The archbishop of the archdiocese of Prague is the only Czech cardinal. In addition, there are six dioceses headed by bishops: four in Bohemia and two in Moravia.

Protestant churches (in Czech, often referred to by a term translated as “evangelical”) are small, less hierarchical, and diversified.

Among those registered in 1995 were Baptists, Czech Brethren, Czechoslovak Hussite Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Methodists, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, and the Silesian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession. Other denominations include the Czech Orthodox Church, the Old Catholic Church, Unitarians, and the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic.

Rituals and Holy Places

Catholic churches or chapels are found even in the smallest communities. Other religious denominations and organizations have church buildings only in areas where a congregation is large enough to support them. Smaller groups meet for worship in private homes or hold meetings in rented quarters.

There were several places of pilgrimage – all Catholic – where devotees used to travel each year to attend a memorial mass for the local saint. Most of these sites are only of regional importance, but a few are known throughout the country.

For example, pilgrimages began in 1647 to the church at Svatá hora, a hill above Příbram in central Bohemia. From 1990 pilgrimages in Eastern Moravia (Hostýn and Velehrad) resumed.

Many of these annual ceremonies have become events that resemble country fairs and are attended by thousands of people. One example is the Matthew’s Fair, which takes place on the outskirts of Prague every spring.

Death and the afterlife

Serious members of the church, whether Catholic or Protestant, believe in life after death. Even lukewarm Catholics frequently arrange for a dying family member to receive last rites before they die.

In the past, the dead used to be buried in a coffin and their graves were provided with elaborate tombstones. In the last fifty years, cremation has become the accepted practice, but in rural Moravia, burial in the ground continues to predominate.

Secular celebrations

Public holidays include New Year’s Day, Easter Monday, Labor Day (May 1), May 8, which commemorates the day in 1945 that Nazi Germany’s occupation ended and signed the unconditional surrender of Germany to the allies, and on July 5, celebrating the arrival of the Slavic missionaries Constantine and Methodius in the year 863; July 6, in memory of the burning at the stake of Jan Hus in 1415; September 28, Czech Statehood Day; October 28, marking the founding of Czechoslovakia in 1918; November 17, Day of Struggle for Freedom and Democracy; and Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the day after (December 24-26).

Although state television and radio present special commemorative programs on many of these holidays, most Czechs spend their days off with family, visiting relatives and attending sporting events, theater and concerts. Those who live in Prague spend their vacations in rural houses working in the garden and enjoying the fresh air.

Arts and Humanities

Arts support

Under the communist regime, prominent writers, painters, and sculptors, as well as museums, theaters, art galleries, and major orchestras received state support.

This generous support from theaters and orchestras made tickets to artistic events, from play readings to expensive productions like operas at the National Theater in Prague, affordable for everyone. Those in the arts who received money from the state had to conform to political and ideological dictates, or at least ensure that they did not offend the Soviet Union, those in power in their own country, and the Communist Party.

Working under such restrictions became unbearable for some of the most creative writers, such as Josef Škvorecký (1924-) and Milan Kundera (1929-), who left the country to write and publish abroad.

Since the velvet revolution of 1989, artists have enjoyed freedom of expression and most support themselves. However, prestigious artistic institutions and ensembles such as the National Theatre, the National Gallery and the Czech Philharmonic continue to receive state support.


The first literary language in the area of ​​today’s Czech Republic was Old Church Slavonic, which was used by the missionaries Constantine and Methodius. Although Latin predominated between the 11th and 14th centuries, Czech came into use during the 13th century, and during the 14th century it was used in a wide variety of genres: legends, treatises, dramatic compositions, satires, and fables.

The activities of the United Brethren, especially a Bible translation at the end of the 16th century, greatly contributed to the stabilization of the Czech literary language.

Modern Czech literature began to develop during the 19th century. The founder of modern Czech poetry was Karel Hynek Mácha (1810-1836), whose long poem Máj (May) was published in 1836.

Celebrating the beauty of the spring countryside and romantic love, Mácha’s work made masterful use of the sound qualities of the Czech language in dealing with death and faith, the execution of a young man who killed his father for seducing the girl the son loved, and the girl’s suicide; those topics were quite daring for her time.

In prose, the most enduring early work was Babička (Grandmother) by Božena Němcová (1820-1862). The author describes rural life in the first half of the 19th century, including the folk customs of the different times of the year. As of 1998, more than 350 editions of this work had been published.

Another popular writer, Alois Jirásek (1851-1930), produced novels and plays based on themes from Czech history ranging from the Hussite movement to the national revival. The poet Otokar Březina (1868-1929) had a great influence on 20th-century lyric poetry; His five collections of poems reflected a deep understanding of world literature, philosophy, and theology.

Karel Čapek (1890-1938) is known throughout the world for his translations. His literary output includes plays, children’s books, informal essays on his European travels, utopian novels, and novels in which he explores the nature and foundations of knowledge. The English word “robot” comes from the game RUR (“Rossum’s Universal Robots” [1920]) by Čapek.

In general, Czech lyric poetry has surpassed both prose and dramatic writing in quality. Czechs are keen readers and often read on trains, buses and in the Prague metro. Translations of foreign books are easy to come by.

Graphic arts

Stone architecture in the Czech lands dates from the second half of the 9th century (rotundas). In the 13th century, the Romanesque style was replaced by the Gothic, which reached its peak during the reigns of Charles IV (1346-1378) and his son Václav IV (1378-1419).

Prague boasts thousands of architectural and artistic monuments of all styles, attesting to its long history (the fortified settlement around which Prague developed was founded in the late 9th century).

Prague’s palaces and mansions are small, but what they lack in size they make up for in privacy and setting in the narrow, curving streets of old Prague. Foreign visitors consider Prague one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Painting and sculpture have a long history, from the works of Theodorik, court painter to Charles IV, to more recent post-modernist styles.

Among the most revered painters are Josef Mánes (1820-1871), landscape and portrait painter and author of ethnographic sketches and illustrations; Mikoláš Aleš (1852-1913), who portrayed Czech historical events and scenes from folk life; and Alfons Mucha (1860-1939), an internationally known representative of Art Nouveau. Mucha was one of the founders of modern poster art, and reproductions of his posters are still popular.

Among the modern painters is František Kupka (1871-1957), who lived in France after 1906. He was a pioneer of abstract art and is best known for his non-figurative representations.

Czech sculptors include Josef Václav Myslbek (1848-1922), a representative of monumental realism exemplified by the statue of Saint Wenceslas in Prague’s main square, and Jan Štursa (1880-1925), whose female figures are admired for their forms. sensual.

Performing arts

In the Czech Republic, music is the most popular art, and Czech music is well known in the rest of the world. The old saying “Co Čech, to muzikant” (“Every Czech is a musician”) is a succinct characterization of the Czech disposition.

Renaissance vocal polyphonic music was composed and performed during the 16th century, Italian operas were performed not only in Prague but also in smaller cities in the 18th century, and at a time when the Baroque was giving way to classicism, numerous musicians from the Czech Republic were active in many European countries.

Among Czech composers, four are heard in concert halls and opera houses around the world. Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884) composed the six symphonic poems My Country (Má vlast) and the folk opera The Bride Swapped (Prodaná nevěsta). Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904), who composed works in various genres, is known especially for his sixteen Slavic Dances (“Slovanskétance”) and Symphony No. 9, From the New World; he was also founder and director for three years of the National Conservatory of Music in New York (1892-1895). Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) was a Moravian composer known for his strongly rhythmic and dramatic operas, such as Jenufa (“Její” pastorkyňa), and Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959) composed operas, symphonies, and chamber music.

Since 1946, every May, music lovers from many countries come to Prague to attend the daily concerts, recitals and other musical events. Not only the best Czech musicians, but also foreign ensembles and soloists take part in this music festival known as Pražské jaro (“Prague Spring”).

Theater and ballet are well represented not only in Prague, but also in various cities in Bohemia and Moravia. There is a long tradition of puppetry, ranging from the well-known nomadic puppeteers of the 18th century to a professional network of puppet theaters today.

Prague is also known for its Laterna magika (“Magic Lantern”), founded in 1958, a mixed-media show that combines live performance with film, slides, and music. Laterna magika was presented at the world’s fairs in Brussels in 1958 and Montreal in 1967.

Czech filmmakers have had great success, and several of their works have received Oscars, including Kolya in 1997. Probably the best-known Czech director is Miloš Forman (1932-), who left the country in 1968 due to lack of artistic freedom.

His films made in the United States include Hopeless Youth (1971), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), and Amadeus (1984).

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