Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Carols in Czech Land Records

This post was co-authored by Lukáš Svoboda and Kate Challis

Štědrej večer nastal, Štědrej večer nastal, koledy přichystal, koledy přichystal.
Štědrej večer nastal, koledy přichystal, koledy přichystal.


Štědrej večer nastal, koledy přichystal, koledy přichystal.
Štědrej večer nastal, koledy přichystal, koledy přichystal.


Panímámo vstantě, panímámo vstantě, koledy nám dejte, koledy nám dejte.
Panímámo vstantě, koledy nám dejte, koledy nám dejte.


Panímáma vstala,panímáma vstala, koledy nám dala, koledy nám dala.
Panímáma vstala koledy nám dala, koledy nám dala.



These are the song lyrics of a traditional Czech Carol. The text is very simple, though the English translation is not. Christmas Eve is called Štedrý večer, “Generous night”, a night when the gifts are given. But the very often repeated word koleda or koledy, which could translate to carol or Christmas carol, instead has a dual meaning in Czech. It refers to a gift of food given to carolers who went from house to house - not only on Štedrý večer, but also on Tři Krále (Epiphany, the feast of Three Kings), Easter and other days of the liturgical calendar.

Some Christmas Vocabulary

Štedrý den/večer : Christmas Eve day/evening
koleda : Christmas carol or gifts (usually food) for carolers
kantor : village teacher
výsluška : gift of food that is given to carolers



Children were not the only people who traveled from house to house singing carols; the obecní pasák, or municipal shepherd, went with them cracking his whip together with the ponocný, or night-watcher blowing his horn. Together, the crowd went singing from house to house, and at each stop they received food such as bread, cakes, legumes, apples, nuts or flour (yes, plain, raw flour). All this was given on Štedrý den and it was very welcome in many households of the poorer families without extensive landholdings.


The children were often accompanied by the kantor, the local teacher who also got his výsluška, gifts. But not infrequently kantors were often mentioned in the land books as an obligation to be paid, or a burden connected with the possession of the farm. The giving of the koleda originally began in the deep past not as a voluntary offering, but more of a village custom. Eventually this custom evolved into an obligation (a kind of tax) tied to the property, and which each subsequent farm possessor was obliged to pay. Over time, the payments also evolved from exchanges of in-kind goods to currency.     


For example in this 1778 record from Velkostatek (the estate of) Český Šternberk:
Czýℓ: kral Platý dle Reparticze
do duchodu wrchnostenskeho auroku
k. s Jiržý a k. s. Hawlu ročznie    fr 23x “ 2 d
za zbirane zdřziwý…………………..40x”
Přzedstawenemu duchownimu pasti”
řzý jmenem desatku, Letnika z
kazde krawý každo Rocžnije po...3xr
Contorowý posnopnýho zita…………..1 snop
……………………………..owsa………..1 snop
…………….colledj…………………………..1 xr

Royal Imperial Taxes according to the partition[,] to the manorial  revenue[of] his lordship [twice] annually
on St. George[‘s feast day] and St. Havel[‘s feast day]...fr 23x 2 d
for wood collection...40x
[To] the superior spiritual shepherd[, the priest is given] the appointed tithing of each cow annually at Pentecost for...3 xr.
The village teacher’s harvest allowance...1 “snop”
[The village teacher’s] oats...1 “snop”
[The village teacher’s] koleda...1 xr

Yes, he (the farmer) really is paying 1 kreuzer to the village teacher for his koleda obligation. Is it a "Christmas carol tax"? Well...that is a bit of a stretch, since technically obligations/burdens are not the same as taxes. Still, somehow today it is a funny thought, especially through the foggy lens of translation! 


Another example of a koleda obligation is found in this 1791 entry for a farm in Radošice:
4to kantorovi žita, ječmena a ovsa
každého po ……………… 4 snopy
Nového léta neb koledy ……. 3 xr


The end of the koleda obligation

1830 entry for farm in Radošice with a post-1848 margin note

c. desátku panu faráři žita, ječmene, a ovsa každého 2 4/8 m. Letníku z jedné každé krávy ½ žejdlíku másla a školnímu učitely nového léta 3 kr. a 2 vejce každoročně odvádět.
To the parish teacher [shall be given] rye, barley, oats each [in the amount] of … 4 snop [a unit of volume]
New Year or koleda …. 3 xr
Dle vyvazovací tabely jest vymazána koleda učitele za náhradu pro okr. školní pokladnici v Plzni 50 kr. r. č. 5 %
According to "release" table the koleda for the teacher is deleted with compensation for district school treasure in the sum of 50 kr. r. č. with 5 % interests

All the koleda and other so-called natural obligations were abolished after 1848 when the farmers finally became owners of their land. New owners were now obliged to pay a certain sum of money (with interest until full payment was made) to the  Okresní školní pokladnici, the district school treasury. This was official the end of koleda as a traditional source of income for teachers.


Kantors were often authors of many of the Christmas songs which the children would sing from house to house. They composed them specifically for these occasions and they quickly spread across the country. Many of these songs - such as the song mentioned at the beginning - have survived, and though their authors are long forgotten, their work still lives in everyday culture.



One of the village teachers was also Jakub Jan Ryba, the composer of one the most popular and beautiful Christmas compositions: Česká mše vánoční, or the Czech Christmas Mass. It was written in 1796 and is sung today in churches, public performances, and is annually broadcasted on television and radio.



Speaking of carols, we sang this for our ward Christmas program and will be singing for the joint-ward Christmas sacrament meeting this coming Sunday if church is not cancelled like it was last week for the horribly cold weather! I (Kate) am the second person from the left.


Even though "The First Noel" is not Czech at all, and this arrangement is a slightly different meter than how it is typically sung, I thought it would be a nice, personal way to wish you a Merry Christmas. May we enjoy our friends and family this Christmas, may we all stay warm and safe, and may 2017 continue to be filled with interesting Czech genealogical adventures!

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