Nothing beats being home for Christmas. And nothing gets me in a sentimental mood like the dull “thwack” of a board against the skull of a carp.
Yes, this is Christmas in the Czech Republic.
Carp, the traditional Czech Christmas dinner, can be purchased out of large kiddie pools on virtually every major street corner during the week before Christmas.
I remember our first Christmas in Prague. Dad stood brooding over which carp looked best for a few moments, then pointed and said, “Tam” (Czech: “There”). A portly man, sporting a puffy coat, hat, mittens and a robust beard, scooped it out of the tank and slipped it into a plastic grocery bag. Dad took it, paid and hopped immediately on the bus. He called to announce that he had carp in hand and that we should commence preparations immediately. We ran to the bathroom, plugged the tub and began filling it with water, testing it’s temperature every so often.
Dad arrived home soon enough, and we rushed to get the carp into the tub. It went in with a sploosh and floundered around for a few minutes before orienting itself.
Later that afternoon while mom was making some final preparations, dad scooped up the carp, grabbed a sturdy board, and went into the back yard. “Thwack,” we heard after a while. Then “Skrutch! … Wamwamwamwam! … Crack! … Bam! … Crunch… Thud.” A few minutes later he reappeared with a broken (not as sturdy as it looked) board and a dead carp. “That was hard!” Dad exclaimed. “He just didn’t wanna die.” Mom filled it with all sorts of delicious herbs and stuck it in the oven.
As it turns out, carp (not to be confused with crap) isn’t the most delectable of dishes. It’s a rather scaly, bony fish and a bottom-feeder at that. But we were resolute to have a traditional Czech Christmas, and so on Christmas night, carp it was!