Bruins center David Krejci hasn't been able to celebrate a traditional Czech Christmas since coming to North America to play junior hockey in Quebec in 2004, but he remembers the Christmases of his childhood in the Czech Republic fondly. And back home, it was Christmas Eve that was the big day.
"When I was home we always did Christmas on the morning of the 24th," Krejci said. "In Czech, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th, so that was the big day. Lots of special foods like carp. Then after dinner we'd open the gifts and play with them the whole night. That's when the holiday started for us."
The Czech Republic has a custom for how those gifts are delivered that's a bit different than the Santa Claus tradition common in North America.
"No, there's no Santa Claus [in the Czech Republic]," Krejci said. "The right translation is Jesus, but it's not the same Jesus. I don't know how to explain it. The kids write the note to Jesus and that's the person who makes the gifts. We don't have anything that he comes down the chimney or anything like that.
"When I was a kid we were eating dinner and my dad left," Krejci added. "He said he was going to the bathroom and then all of the sudden we heard the bell ring. That's the sign that Jesus was there. He put the gifts under the Christmas tree and we were ready to go."
What kind of things would Jesus leave under the tree for a young Krejci?
"Hockey sticks, I always loved Titan sticks, and when I was a kid my dad gave me two for Christmas," Krejci said. "They were used ones. They weren't new ones, but I was happy."
Krejci has been happy to incorporate some North American traditions into his holiday festivities as well, especially Santa Claus and the many films he is featured in.
"What I like is that the people put up their Christmas trees way earlier than they do back home, and you guys have Santa Claus," Krejci said. "There are so many movies about Santa Claus that I have been watching. I like those kind of movies. We have our Christmas movies [in the Czech republic], but we don't have Santa Claus. I like Will Ferrell in Elf. I like them all. I just sit down on my couch, relax, watch the movies with my Christmas tree on. It's kind of cool."
Still, even with the lights shining on the tree and Elf in the Blu-Ray, it can be tough being so far from home at this time of year.
"Home is home, right? You can't ever replace that," Krejci said. "Just the atmosphere we had back home for Christmas Eve is something special. It's been about 10 years since I've been there for Christmas, so I've kind of gotten used to it. We call each other on Christmas day and talk for about an hour. That's how life goes, sometimes you have to sacrifice something to accomplish what you want."