Each of my four kids could tell you the Czech word for washcloth . . . žínka. Unfortunately, that was about all they knew of their paternal Bohemian heritage — in spite of the fact that four of their great-grandparents were first-generation immigrants.
Like many Americans, we enjoyed corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day, prepared Mexican food for Cinco de Mayo and ordered Asian takeout for Chinese New Year. Although we celebrated other cultures, there just didn't seem to be a place in the calendar to celebrate being Czech.
Since I wanted my kids to know from where and from whom they came, I decided to designate a day to celebrate their Czech heritage. I (the non-Czech in the crowd) and my husband, Tom, researched the history of his homeland. Since Oct. 28 marks the day when former Czechoslovakia became a country, we chose that day for our celebration.
Tom's family no longer lived nearby, but I remembered some of the food his grandmother Babi used to prepare. Pork roast I could handle. Plum dumplings and red cabbage were not typical menu items for us, but I was willing to try.
For dessert we had kolachky, small pastries filled with an assortment of fruit. Since Babi's recipes included such explicit directions as "measure out a half eggshell's worth of water," I opted to purchase the desserts from a Bohemian bakery on the other side of the city.
Over dinner, Tom recounted Czech history, and we both shared stories about his relatives. While they couldn't join our celebration because of the distance, an earlier call to Tom's mom helped to fill in some of the details of our children's heritage.
We repeated the event every fall while our children were growing up. I remember overhearing one of our kids mentioning to a friend that we were celebrating Czech Independence Day — like that was a normal thing for us to do. Yes!
Years later when our youngest daughter, Christa, studied abroad, she chose to go to Prague. She wanted to embrace her heritage in spite of not knowing the language — except, of course, žínka!
This article appeared in the January/February 2012 issue of
Thriving Family magazine and was titled, "Keeping Our Family in Czech." Copyright © 2011 by Letitia Suk. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.
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