A Slovakian Christmas dinner tradition may be strange to us, but when you think about it, it’s pretty brilliant.
A traditional Christmas dinner in Slovakia is breaded carp, cabbage and sausage soup, and potato salad. But before the carp is killed, it must live in your bathtub. That’s right, in many homes in Slovakia right before Christmas the homes of Slovakians will often have pet carp swimming around in bathtubs.
No one quite knows where this tradition began, but it is believed that living in freshwater before being eaten cleanses the digestive system of the bottom-feeding carp. Although it may take longer than a few days to cleanse the fish, according to fisheries scientist Patrick Cooney, it surely must taste less muddy and if you think about it, is quite brilliant.
Fish have long been symbols of Christianity and having a carp live in your house is supposed to bring you luck. Another reason Eastern Europeans may have kept fish in their bathtubs was due to lack of refrigeration.
However this tradition began, it is still practiced today in many countries in Eastern Europe.
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When the pet carp has lived in the bathtub for a few days, it is removed by the head of the household and prepared for supper or, like in the video, set free and then the carp dinner is bought from a local fishmonger.
Slovakia is notorious for its superstitions. During Christmas dinner no one is allowed to get up from the table, even to use the bathroom, because standing up means someone in the family will die before next Christmas. Once everyone is finished with dinner, they look for fish scales to signify luck for the next year and people carry around the carp scales until the next Christmas meal.
Although my Slovene heritage did not have these kinds of traditions, maybe that is why my mom would never let us leave the table at dinner…
Merry Christmas! Eat some carp!