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The various cultural events during the Advent are dominated by the Christmas Market in the historical Main Square in the centre and the amazing street party celebrating the arrival of the New Year. Even though the Christmas market does not have a centuries old tradition in Bratislava, it has gained the reputation of being one of the best open-air events of the year. It quickly and naturally became the place for all generations of Bratislavians and visitors to meet. While fourteen years ago the Christmas Market started with some 50 stalls, this year the Main Square and the adjacent courtyard of the Old Town Hall will accommodate over 100 stalls. The official opening of the market, which falls on Friday 23 November this year, will include the traditional switching on of the Christmas tree lights. What is characteristic of Bratislava Christmas Market is the choice assortment of Christmas fare on offer, respecting traditional national cuisine. Try a typical ?Gypsy Liver? pork burger (Cig?nska pečienka), spicy sausage, bread with lard and onion, savoury pastry (Pag?č), goose or sauerkraut potato crepe, sauerkraut soup, hot punch, mulled wine or grog. For dessert why not have some sweet pastry, Christmas wafers, honey biscuits, or Christmas mead. The stalls have various trinkets and gifts on sale, complementing the special pre-Christmas atmosphere. Wood, glass, leather, wicker, dried corn leaves, or beeswax, are just some of the natural materials used to make practical and decorative wares. In the courtyard of the Old Town Hall members of the guild of historic crafts sell their merchandise. Consumer goods maniacs will not be so enthusiastic about the Christmas Market on the Main Square, because no such goods are sold there. Instead they should go to any of the many shopping centres, like Aupark, Polus or Avion, where you can find top brand names and much more. The first thing that strikes you about Bratislava's Christmas market is the atmosphere. Slovak shopkeepers are not generally renowned for the sunniness of their disposition. Yet there seems to be genuine good cheer among the market stalls in the old town, emanating from both the stallholders and the customers milling around them. In part this reflects the Christmas market's function: not just as a place to eat, drink and hunt for gifts, but as an annual and much-anticipated rendezvous for friends and acquaintances. This a Bratislava social occasion. The second thing that strikes you is the piped music: mostly seasonal and quite jolly (and, mercifully, not too loud). Every day in the late afternoon and early evening, folk troupes from around Slovakia perform on a stage next to the Old Town Hall. The market consists of a small village of wooden cabins filling the Main Square (Hlavn? n?mestie), the adjoining Franciscan Square (Franti?k?nske n?mestie), and part of the nearby (and much larger) Hviezdoslavovo Square. About half the stalls sell gifts, and an impressive proportion of the merchandise on sale is locally made. This includes traditional Slovak Christmas items like medovn?ky (spiced gingerbread biscuits, ornately decorated with icing); wooden toys; ??polie (small figurines made from dried maize leaves); bells; lacework; wire jewellery, beeswax candles; and pottery decorated with patterns typical of the different regions of Slovakia. The international children's charity UNICEF has a cabin (A2, in the Main Square) selling Christmas cards and other items. The other half of the cabins form the social core of the market. They sell freshly cooked food and seasonal drink, and around them are clusters of high tables, under cover, at which to stand and eat your food. The food is hot, and generally quite fatty. It includes delicacies such as lok?e (thin potato pancakes) flavoured with pečienka (goose liver), kapusta (cabbage) or sweetened with mak (poppyseed) or orechy (nuts); cig?nska pečienka (roast pork or chicken in a bread roll served with grilled onion and mustard); pag?č (small savoury pastries); klob?sa (sausage), normally served with horčica (mustard); and sc?skanice (baked potato dough flavoured with bacon fat). But as important as the food are the drinks. This being winter, most of them are served hot. Mulled wine (varen? vino) is served in red (červen?) and (biele) varieties, sweetened and spiced. Well-known local winemakers, like Maty??k from Pezinok, have stands selling their versions of it.Among the other concoctions on offer, punč (punch) is a fruity, wine-based version of its international namesake; grog is a little stronger, based on rum and also served warm; and medovina is a locally-made honey wine.But perhaps the most unique Christmas drink on offer is hriat?. Based on an alcoholic spirit such as slivovica or vodka it is flavoured with hot animal fat, typically duck or bacon fat. It tastes almost as odd as it sounds. But you are unlikely to find anything like it elsewhere, so for a truly Slovak Christmas give it a go... Vesel? Vianoce! ? Merry Christmas!

  • by TheMadPlatypus
  • recorded November 2010
  • uploaded Mar 02, 2011
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