These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.
Not only the Christians have realized that trying to ban solstice celebrations that have gone on for thousands of years is like pissing against a hurricane. Communists realized that too. To my knowledge, they did not even try to eradicate or co-opt it. They just went along with it as it was.
I mentioned already that the regime was in fact actively anti-religion and anti-theism in general. This had little to no effect on the general population though. Czechs were heathens before, during and after the Iron Curtain, Slovaks and Poles were strongly catholic before, during and after the Iron Curtain. And since I live in one of the most heathen parts of Czech Republic, my childhood Christmas had nothing to do with any religious mumbo-jumbo whatsoever.
So how did we actually approach the Christmas? As a family holiday, a time for spending time together and gift-giving. The TV run mostly light entertainment (and still does) for three days straight, with emphasis on fairy-tales, whose airing on TV literally became a new christmas tradition in itself. There are fairy-tales that are expected to be aired for generations, and when they ceased to be aired after the fall of Iron Curtain, because they do contain some propaganda stuff hidden in them, they were nevertheless demanded by the public and thus got aired again.
My parents tried, not very enthusiastically and therefore with little success to bring some “magic” to the gifts appearing under the christmas tree by being brought by Ježíšek (Baby Jesus), whom they never defined to me. However it did not last long and I in fact remember nearly nothing about it. By the time I started to go to school one girl in our class got mercilessly mocked by most of the class for openly saying she believes in Baby Jesus bringing gifts. Most of the kids by that time already knew how gift giving really works.
First time I have learned what Ježíšek is actually supposed to be that I remember was when reading the book by Josef Lada “Kocour Mikeš” (Mikes the (male) cat). The book contains the whole biblical story of how Jesus was born in Bethlehem, sanitized for children audience into a fairy-tale form. Which is how I got exposed to most of religious ideas – as fairy tales. Which is what they are.
As soon as I gained some skills, I was trying to make christmas presents for my parents and siblings. The first succesful attempt that I remember was making simple paper models of a church (for my Mum) a castle (for my father) and a fort (for my brother). Blast it, I completely forgot what I have given to my sister that year. Nevermind, this was and remained for me the true meaning of christmas, but I grew up to resent the mandatory gift giving because life obligations are not so kind as to align with arbitrary date in the calendar, so nowadays if I come across something that would be suitable as a christmas gift, I give it on christmas, but I do not fuss about it. I give gifts to family and friends when opportunity and/or need arises, Christmas or no.
The one tradition that endured all political changes in our country, and which even our heathen family still observes, is eating of fish – specifically carp – for dinner on 24. of December. The fish are generally sold alive a few days prior. And since my mom was the boss at local food store, she was in charge of these yearly fish sales. So as a child I have spent a few adventurous days from 4:00 a.m. till 5:00 p.m. with my dad and a few other people outside, near the huge vats in which the carp swam. I learned to kill, gut and dismember fish before I finished school. I learned to recognize a few fish species that way too, because other fish got occasionally caught with the carp. I had a lot of fun there and I looked forward to that part of Christmas the most – when I was healthy enough to actually participate that is.
I like the fish soup and less so the fish steaks, but what I do not like at all is the killing and dismembering the poor animal. I am not opposed to eating meat and killing animals for that purpose, but I do not enjoy it either. However since my father has a really bad eyesight now, it is nowadays my duty to do these chores. I usually let the fish being killed at the stall however, so the poor animal’s suffering is over quickly
A tangent – how Chuck Norris was unable to kill christmas carp. The man at the end says “Everyone can be tough on TV”. I know Chuck Norris is a bit whacko and a Republican, but there is no denying he does have a sense of humor:
Happy whatever, everyone.