A letter to my adopted homeland on the eve of her 100th birthday
I hope you don’t mind me calling you Czechia. The Czech Republic seems too formal for a letter between friends. When the hoopla about finding a short name for you made the headlines, I vetoed the idea. So did my neighbors. Now, your shortened name has grown on me. Go figure.
Czechia sounds welcoming, like the nickname, Emilka, that my husband’s family gave me. Emilka is much more pleasant than Emil, which is what our postwoman calls me. (No matter that I am a woman).
Czechia, since we are friends, or at least, I have spent 14 years creating a life on your soil, I would like to take this moment to say thanks. (I figured I should get my words in before you see the fireworks above the Vltava and the real party begins.)
That’s right. This weekend, the birthday celebrations are going to be all about you. Congratulations! I bet you didn’t realize you’d gotten so old, so fast?
In the Wallenstein Palace Senate gardens, there is a timeline that traces your creation from the years of Austrian-Hungarian Empire to the fall of Communism in 1989. This was a helpful cheat sheet for me when my American friends came to visit last week.
Although, my eight-year-old son Samuel’s rendition of the legend of the Pražský orloj (astronomical clock) and the tragic blinding of Mr. Hanus (the clock tower’s 15thcentury designer) really had my friends’ attention. Even if it isn’t entirely true.
To help you realize what a big deal it is to turn 100, Czechia, your people have pulled out all the stops. On top of the fireworks, there’s going to be a grand military parade, and outdoor concerts. There is even a free Czech-Slovak exhibition at your newly re-opened National Museum. And, that’s just in Prague.
For a country whose people have such a long history, you are still a bit like a teenager. Take this as a compliment. I am learning a lot from my teenage daughter (i.e. how to make deer antlers from sticks and coloured felt and why taking a midnight dip in 10C lake water can be fun.)
This weekend, your national colors – white, red, and blue – will be prominent, and your flags (both Czech and Slovak) will wave. This is going to be a treat since your flag isn’t usually paraded around town. Unless you count appearing on your fans’ faces at hockey matches.
In your pubs, beer mugs will be raised “Na zdravi” to your health. There will even be a new celebratory beer called Prvni (The First). Prvni is a co-production by Pilsner Urquell and the family-run, microbrewery Matuška.
I really like Pilsner, even if people say it is an old-man’s beer. I have yet to taste a Matuška brew, but my sons’ baseball coaches (both younger and hipper than me) like it.
Speaking of mixing tradition with innovation, when I was hanging out with my Czech girlfriends the other day, we started talking about your local politics. Well, they talked (I listened). For the first time since they could remember, each of them had a contemporary (one even had a brother) who was running for local district council this autumn.
My friends wondered, would the old guard, known for getting what it wanted in spite of rules and red tape, cooperate with the energy and passion of the newcomers who know little about Czech politics but want to bring change? My girlfriends were curious. I am too.
Talking about neighborhoods, in our neighborhood this past weekend, we had our first official “Slavnost sousedů” (Celebration of Neighbors). We all got flyers in our mailbox announcing the event. Neighbors signed up to prepare food from different ethnic traditions, and families walked through the neighborhood on a set path, stopping to taste the offerings. It was the first time in ten years, we had an EU-sponsored community event.
On the eve of your birthday, we’ll have another neighborhood event, this time in the name of Halloween. I know Halloween has gotten a bad rap because it’s not a Czech tradition, but if you could see our blended version, I think you’d like it.
There’s a lot of cooperation among the kids because they are trying to complete challenges – like walking blindfolded and carrying tiny pumpkins on their heads. Later, we’ll grill sausages on a bonfire and drink svařák (mulled wine). No one says, “Trick or treat,” and we all bring something to share. To be honest, I’m looking forward to it almost as much as I am to your big birthday celebration downtown.
But, this is getting long, and, Czechia, you’ve got to get prepped for your celebrations, so I’ll wrap it up.
In closing, I just wanted to say thank you.
Thank you for letting me make my home here and helping me raise my children, even if I am not officially a Czech citizen.
Thank you for welcoming me into your country and for allowing me to learn about your traditions and the ways of your people. It has been a learning curve and my journey is ongoing.
Thank you for your language, even the Ř sound. I still make mistakes and get embarrassed. But learning your language shows my children that, like them, I am trying to improve.
Thank you for soup before the main course, especially spicy česnečka (garlic soup).
Thank you for slippers and indoor clothes, even if I sometimes forget to wear both.
Thank you for your forests scattered with wild mushrooms, beautiful vistas from your trails, and the freedom to hike wherever there are no fences.
Thank you for trams that take my children to school and buses that bring them home from school.
Thank you for cross-country skiing (even if I am forever a beginner) and for single-trek mountain biking paths.
Thank you for your historic castles and the legends that help my children continue to believe they are growing up in a fairytale.
Thank you for your people, my friends and neighbors, that have become as close as family over the years.
Tomorrow my children’s Czech elementary school is having its own Czech and Slovak birthday party for you. I’ll sign off now to bake a Czech cake and some (arguably untraditional) Czech yeast bread.
Hodně štěstí, zdraví, a hlavně to zdraví!
(Czech Happy Birthday Song wishing lots of luck, health and mainly health)
Czechia, may your 100th celebration be a blow-out and may you have many more birthdays to come.
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