#WhitworthAdvent: The Christmas Carp Tradition

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), Fish Series : A Carp. Accession number:
P.1996.34 Source: the Whitworth

At this time of year, thoughts in Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland will be turning to the Christmas carp. The carp plays as big a part on the Christmas dinner table in that part of the world as the goose or turkey does here.

The tradition of eating carp goes back to the 13th century, when the Catholic and Orthodox churches decreed that there should be a lengthy fast in the run up to Christmas. 

In the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland, the fast is broken after the first evening star is seen. In the Czech Republic, it is said that if you fast on Christmas Eve (known as Generous Day), you will see a golden pig in the evening. Generous Day also brings presents for children, delivered not by Father Christmas, but by the baby Jesus himself.

Fish was allowed as a meal under the rules of the fast, so it became traditional as the final meal of Christmas Eve. Central and Eastern European countries have a long history of pond fish farming, and carp became the customary centrepiece of the Christmas Advent table. In Poland, the meal consists of twelve courses, but elsewhere it is more simple, with fried carp and potato salad as the Christmas Eve meal, after which presents are distributed and the feasts of Christmas begin. 


Further reading



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