Christmas Cheer in NYC & Upcoming Break from Blogging

Merry Christmas from my family to yours! ❤

In just one week, we will be leaving Smiley in good hands (I’m still going to cry and worry) while we leave for our 18 day trip to Iceland, London, Kiev and Prague! It’ll be our first time returning to Europe in 2.5 years and I have no idea what to expect with my Shanghai/New York perspective! It’s going to be amazing.

Yesterday we spent a day doing all the typical touristy Christmas stuff in Manhattan with Smiley. It was crazy and crowded but so worth it. Here are the photos! I’ve been posting every other day for months and it’s time to take a break. I’ll be back annoying you with my rants and videos in January!

I wish you all happy and relaxing holidays ❤

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(Guest Post) CZECH TRADITIONS: CHRISTMAS

Merry Christmas from the Czech Republic! In recognition of our time here, I wanted to learn more about their culture and traditions. Czechs celebrate their Christmas on Christmas Eve (so Merry late Christmas to all the Czechs out there). The only way that it made sense to me was to compare it to how we celebrate the new year on New Year’s Eve. Regardless, what we (Americans) call Christmas Eve is Christmas to Czechs – Štědrý Den meaning “Generous Day”.

By Rachel Kitai (Guest Blogger)

While Christmas trees are readily available to purchase from December 01st, most don’t decorate the tree until the morning of Christmas Eve. At least to me, that makes for a sad room – just a naked tree sitting in the middle of their living room…for a month. Traditionally, they would decorate it with apples, candies, and other ornaments.

Please find the original post with more photos here: https://guyandgalphotoblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/25/czech-traditions-christmas/

Rachel Kitai is a travel and an artist, check out her art here: http://rachelkitai.com/

Dinner is also very important for their Christmas celebrations. You can read more about their Christmas dinner here. Not to spoil anything, but they are a meat and potatoes kinda country. After (or during) dinner, the parents rush to put the presents under the tree ringing a bell as soon as they are finished signifying the visit of Ježíšek (Baby Jesus). To the children’s belief Baby Jesus visits each family’s house as soon as they finish dinner, flying in through a window to have their presents materialize under the tree (I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have wings). After the presents are opened, family time ensues with playing games, watching TV, and the adults drinking beer (obviously). At Midnight, most will take their family to a mass at one of the major churches (půlnoční mše – meaning Midnight Mass).

Baby Jesus is exclusive to the Czech Republic living in a small town in the mountains called Boží Dar where a post office accepts letters from children (similar to those sent to Santa Claus). Unlike Santa Claus, Baby Jesus has no distinct appearance – staying rather abstract. If you wish to visit Boží Dar, the highest town in the Czech Republic, make sure you make a point to visit the Baby Jesus hiking trails where children can visit various fairy land creatures and complete tasks to receive a prize from Baby Jesus.

In addition to the aforementioned traditions, there are many superstitions and traditional activities related to predicting the future. Most of these are no longer practiced but I thought them intriguing enough to share.

In relation to Christmas Dinner:

  • Set the table for an even amount of people. An odd number of people brings bad luck or even death in the next year.
  • The first person to leave the table will die sometime in the next year. Everyone should therefore leave the table at the same time (so everyone dies instead).
  • No one should sit with their back to the door.
  • Hog tie the table with rope to protect the house from thieves and robbers.
  • No alchohol is to be served on Christmas Eve (clearly not practiced anymore).
  • After Christmas dinner, each person cuts an apple in half (from top to bottom). If everyone sees a star in the center, then it means you will meet again in the next year in happiness and health. If there is a cross pattern instead, someone at the table will become sick or die that year.
    Predictions/Superstitions:
  • If there is a young maiden in the family, it is common for her to throw her shoe over her right shoulder. If the toe points towards the door, she knows that she will be married sometime that year.
  • Similarly, if a young unmarried woman shakes an elder tree and a dog barks, she will not only get married sometime that year but the same direction from which the dog barked is where her future husband lives (Well, that explains the random women I have seen hugging/shaking trees lately).
  • If a woman is pregnant, she will know if her child is a boy or girl based on the gender of the first visitor.

Food-Related:

  • Place fish scales under plates or the tablecloth to bring wealth to the family (or smelly tablecloths).
  • Garlic brings strength and protection (no wonder it helps defeat vampires). A bowl of garlic can be placed under the table (perfect snack for pets).
  • Honey guards against evil. Place a pot of honey on the table to welcome Winnie the Pooh ward off evil and evil spirits.
  • Mushrooms are believed to give health and strength. Mushroom soup is a common appetizer to Christmas dinner.
  • A sheaf of grain can be dipped in holy water and sprinkled around the house to prevent it from burning down the next year.

Read more about Czech superstitions and traditions here. While they are all very interesting…they are also kinda morbid – “If you don’t do this you’ll die or get very ill and be close to dead.” Keep in mind that most of these traditions/superstitions are not widely followed anymore. They make for good stories though.

(Guest Post) CZECH TRADITIONS: CHRISTMAS CARP

About a month ago someone told me to be on the lookout for tubs of carp being sold on the street for Christmas dinner. I immediately imagined bath tubs of carp. Claw foot bath tubs on the side of the street with carp. Unfortunately, there are only plastic tubs of carp – no bath tubs. But to my glee, there are tubs EVERYWHERE. Where there are Christmas trees, there seems to be carp. A LOT of carp. For some reason, I have always been overwhelmingly excited at seeing fish in contained units – whether it be exotic-looking fish in a personal fish tank, sharks in an aquarium, or lobster in a grocery store’s tank. I clearly get excited by weird things.

By Rachel Kitai (Guest Blogger)

Please find the original post with more carp photos here: https://guyandgalphotoblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/24/czech-traditions-christmas-carp/

Rachel Kitai is a travel and an artist, check out her art here: http://rachelkitai.com/

On Christmas Eve, Czechs have a very large dinner – sometimes several courses including: mushroom/sauerkraut/fish soup as an appetizer, carp and potato salad as the main dish, with apple strudel for dessert. According to tradition, dinner is not to be served until the first star has appeared in the sky after sunset.

Anywhere from a day to a few weeks before Christmas, they will purchase carp from one of these sellers in one of two ways. The first way is to ask for the entire carp, alive, and then to keep it in their bathtub as a pet. The second is to have the professionals cut it up for you. Most seemed to be doing the latter.

One of my students told me about the year he bought a live carp. Per tradition, he kept it in his bathtub a few weeks before, allowing his children to name the carp (BIG mistake). When it came time to kill the carp for dinner, the children refused and implored their Dad not to. Eventually, they convinced him to release the carp into the wild – aka the Vltava River (the main river in the middle of the city).

Safe to say, I won’t be purchasing any carp: alive or dead. If I were to cook some carp for our Christmas dinner, I was told to soak it in milk beforehand to avoid a mud-taste. I think I’ll get some next year…when I (hopefully) know more Czech.

Strangers Gave us Money at a Chinese Christmas Party!

Chinese Christmas parties are full of great performances, food and even money!

Last night, Wednesday December 21st, the Huaqiao government hosted a Christmas party. They invited local business owners and foreigners in hopes that we would get to know each other. We were invited by Isaac’s school and we had no idea what to expect! We were more than pleasantly surprised.

We were picked up from the school by a fancy bus hired to transport us to the hotel. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted with an open bar and delicious buffet! The guests were mainly Chinese businessmen, a few Indian businessmen and a bunch of teachers, their spouses and several children.

First we ate sushi, tuna sandwiches, goose live pate, shrimp, fruit, dumplings and way too many delicious desserts. Once we were full, a beautiful Chinese hostess explained the evening’s program which started with an introductory speech by a man who is the equivalent of Huaqiao’s mayor. He spoke about how much Huaqiao has developed in recent years and it was really inspirational.

Then came the performances! It was an interesting mix of a Chinese women’s choir singing English Christmas songs, ancient Chinese dancers, a magician and a fascinating face-changing performer! After the official performances anyone could come on stage – the reward for speaking/preforming was an adorable stuffed toy!

The principal of Kang Chiao, Isaac’s school, gave a moving speech about how much Huaqiao changed since she arrived to start the school four years ago. An enthusiastic older Chinese man sang a beautiful song and a Tai Chi master performed a routine that shook the ground. Even Isaac went up, dragging me with him and sang Silent Night! We got a bear that has a nose instead of one eye, so cute! ❤

It was a truly wonderful event that changed the way I feel about China. I have had a hard time not speaking the language, having people stare at me for looking different and I’ve felt very isolated. This party made me see things differently and finally feel at home in Huaqiao. It came at the perfect time – I will no longer be working from home and will have a chance to explore the area more and maybe even meet some locals!

Many teachers chose not to go to this party and I can understand why they were apprehensive. It’s been one of the busiest weeks of the school year, the weather was bad and no one really knew much about the party. A government-organized event doesn’t have the same ring to it as an expat party in Shanghai. But it truly was the best party we’ve been to in a long time!

I almost forgot to mention that you are likely to get richer at a Chinese party. In the past, red envelopes were given to people with money in it. This Christmas party was a bit more modern… everyone joined a group on WeChat (Chinese WhatApp) and the host would send clickable red envelopes for guests to click on! Isaac and I got a total of $15 from 5/6 red envelopes. You have no idea how many dumplings we can buy with that much money!

We wish all of you Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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CHRISTMAS TREE RECYCLING IN PRAGUE

Starting as early as January 1st, the streets of Prague become crowded with discarded Christmas trees. Although the sight is quite depressing, leaving a used tree by the recycling containers is one of the most ecologically friendly way to dispose of it.

Read the full article on Prague.TV’s website. The best place to discover Prague, like a local!

http://prague.tv/en/s72/Directory/c212-Relocation/n4694-Christmas-Tree-Recycling-in-Prague

Bar Hopping on Czech Christmas

Czech’s celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December but they have public holidays from the 24th until the 26th. So what happens if you want to grab a beer and lunch in the city center on Christmas? I’t not an easy task.

I set out at 15:30 with my boyfriend Isaac and headed for our regular spot, Nagano 98. It was closed, and so were several places that we tried calling. We took tram 14 into the center, passing KFC near Novy Smichov shopping center which was open and a bunch of typical Czech pubs that were not. We got off at Lazarska and found a lot of small open fast food places. We decided to grab baguettes at Bageterie Boulevard near Narodni Trida. We got something from their quick menu which has small 39 czk baguettes. They closed at 16:00 on Christmas and the doors were already being locked when we left.

We decided to walk through the maze of streets between Narodni Trida and Narodni Divadlo, hoping to find something that was open. Most places had all their light off and their doors barred. Some had signs explaining their holiday schedules while others were just closed. Some expensive tourist places were still open and we walked into several smaller places but were turned right around because they were all just about to close. After being kicked out a few place, sometimes politely and other times not, we walked into Bar U Matěje. We walked in cautiously, looking around in worry that someone will tell us to leave. But we finally found a place that was properly open and it was filled with expats.

We got a couple of beers, their draft options were Pilsner, Gambrinus and Master, a dark beer. They also had a few Christmas specials, Cupito for 39 czk, a special punch for 59 czk and 2 x vodka + redbull for just under 100. The place was quite busy since it was one of the few open but the waitress was quick and friendly.

On our way out we realized that Isaac had forgotten his bag at Bageterie Boulevard but they were already closing when we left and we rushed back to a very closed restaurant. We went to the police station around the corner and although they were very friendly and gave us a ride in their car, they couldn’t do much else and advised us to wait until the next morning before cancelling all the credit cards. Since looking online proved that no one had tried using the cards, we took their advice. Luckily the bag and everything in it was recovered the next day, giving Bageterie an extra start in our books.

Santa Con in Prague, Christmas 2014

Santa Con is an event that happens all over the world! Basically, people come together dressed as Santa and walk around singing carols. In Prague this event happened on December 13th and was a combination of dressing up, singing carols, bar-hopping and raising money for charity!

The Prague event is organized annually by Kate Powers who makes a public event for it on Facebook and organizes discounts at pubs, bars and clubs for people wearing a Santa Clause hat.

It started at 17:00 at The Globe Cafe, a popular expat meeting place, with happy hour drink specials (Cuba Libre, Cosmopolitan, Mojito and more for 69 czk! Beer for 25). Then at 19:00 the group moved to Hard Rock Cafe, a chain of awesome cafes around the world, I try to visit one in every city! We got two cocktails for the price of one, so 150czk – 200 czk, even for a Long Island Iced Tea! The finest Czech beer Pilsner was only 35 czk, and we got to enjoy our drinks on a private floor reserved just for us!

After Hard Rock, we moved to the main event, singing carols in Old Town Square! We sang as we walked and then got on stage in the historical square for a few verses. Then we continued by the tree. Even though it was quite warm, around 7 degrees Celcius, the Christmas spirit took over whole group and everyone who listened to us sing.

Next the group split up like it often does but we all ended up in Vodka Bar Propaganda around 21:30. We got free entrance and free welcome shots! There was live music and as usual, lots of new expats for us to meet. There was also a unique bartender who wore a Santa hat, and occasionally pants. At around 23:00 the group went to Double Trouble and got more free welcome shots and partied on, beforLucerna! At Lucerna those who made it there got free entrance (that usually costs 100 czk) and danced the night away. I have no doubt that many Santas lost their hats along with a few memories of the awesome night.

The Facebook event page had 122 people signed up. It is hard to say how many actually came with people coming and leaving at different times. But those who came contributed to the 2,500 czk that were donated to Dobry Andel, a Czech charity that helps family with children who have cancer and other serious sicknesses.

I definitely recommend coming next year, it’ll be even bigger, better and will raise even more money. Last year we raised 1,000 less than this year, lets keep this upwards trend going!