A Christmas postscript: when dogs and fish come out to play

THE carp was brought to Czech land by the Duke of Rozmberk in the 18th century. The Duke of Rozmberk was not only very rich but also a smart person. After a while, when he found out about the great demand for carp, he built a whole network of ponds, where he started to raise carp. He appointed a man, specialist Jakub Krcin, to take care of this business, and, according to history, carp helped the Duke of Rozmberk to become very famous all over Europe. The tradition of ponds remained through the centuries until today. The land previously owned by Rozmberk is now the basis of carp farming in Czechoslovakia. The whole area is covered with hundreds of ponds. The biggest one is called Rozmberk in honor of its founder, and it is the biggest pond in Czechoslovakia. Besides carp, other fish are grown there, too.

The fishing season usually starts in October. First of all, the water is partly drained. Then big nets are put inside the ponds, and the fish are separated and put into huge barrels. Then big trucks take the fish to the places where they are stored live until Christmas time.

Carp is eaten on one specific occasion, Christmas Eve. Carp selling starts about the 20th of December. Live carp are sold on the streets. One can choose the carp he likes according to the size.

Some people prefer to buy frozen pieces of carp already cut and prepared to fry. But a lot of people still keep the old tradition. They buy a live carp, and at home they have to prepare it for supper. The part of killing the carp is not pleasant, and in many families the carp survives in the tub a long time, while a frozen one is substituted for cooking, to the great pleasure of all the children. For kids there is probably nothing nicer than to have a live carp in the tub.

Even though our family always bought the prepared frozen pieces, we felt sorry for all those nice fish that were supposed to be killed. It made us create our special family tradition. Every member bought his or her own live carp, and put it into a big pot with water. Then we all drove to the nearest river to set them free. It was an unforgettable moment for me when I took my carp out of the pot, made a wish, kissed it on its big mouth, and let it go free back to the river.

During the years I lived out there, I met some people who did the same thing, but it is not at all common. It may even look odd to some people, but it always gave me nice feelings and peace in my heart.

Also, there was one very funny thing about it. Whenever we reached the banks of the river in our car loaded with the fish, there were some fishermen trying to catch their Christmas Eve supper. They spent the whole day sitting there waiting in vain for a carp's bite, and now they saw some people who threw at least five live carp back into the river. After this they usually left for home murmuring something about crazy habits. I would bet that they stopped on their way home and bought a carp to prove to their wives that their fishing was not in vain.

Since coming to the United States I have realized that this tradition is probably over for me. Especially in the South people look at the carp with scorn. A carp in the South is also different from the typical Czech carp I was talking about. It is not so big, and it has a lot of bones, so it is not desirable as a food. To buy a live one is impossible.

Last Christmas I spent with my brother, and we had a hard time even finding some fish which would have a taste similar to a carp. We had a fish on Christmas Eve, but we did not set free any carp in a river. It looks as if carp will definitely disappear from our Christmas. But my father wrote me that he bought two extra carp for my brother and me and set them free in our absence.

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