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Romani Christmas: Bobaľki, pišota and forgiveness

An accidental foreign tourist necessarily gets the impression that all Czechs as one start Christmas dinner with fish soup, going on to carp and potato salad. A schnitzel replacing the carp seems the utmost extravagance, and those who abide by tradition and fast enjoy a kuba made from groats and mushrooms. But the reality is not so drab.

  • Autor: Respekt
• Autor: Respekt
Autor fotografie: Eva Davidová • Autor: Respekt
Autor fotografie: Eva Davidová • Autor: Respekt

An accidental foreign tourist necessarily gets the impression that all Czechs as one start Christmas dinner with fish soup, going on to carp and potato salad. A schnitzel replacing the carp seems the utmost extravagance, and those who abide by tradition and fast enjoy a kuba made from groats and mushrooms. But the reality is not so drab. While fish-eaters and fish-bone haters, at the most, register each other, many families put bobaľki, hoľubki, pišota or fasuľa khiľavenca on their Christmas tables. The exotic names stand for traditional Romani meals, which do not originate in India but still represent a distant world – the world of the original Czech and Slovak countryside.

Oddly enough, Roma get far closer to Christian culture than Czechs at Christmas. Once again we can see the well-known fact that they consider their personal identity Romani but their national identity Czech – or, we might say, old Czech. To highlight this fact, the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno has opened a small but important exhibition [running through 31 January] at which people will learn not only how to make bobaľki but also how Roma decorate their homes for Christmas and what special customs they practise. The interest the exhibition has aroused suggests that much of this has surprised non-Roma visitors.

Romani Christmas is marked by an important air of mutual forgiveness. Friends and…

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