“Vánoce u Rumcajsů” (Christmas at the Rumcajs’) is a charming and festive Czech tale that captures the spirit of Christmas in the world of Rumcajs and his family. In this story, set on the third Christmas, Rumcajs and Manka decide to get a carp for their Christmas Eve dinner. The narrative unfolds with delightful episodes, including a chance encounter with Jičín’s grocer, Kastl, and a humorous mishap with the water sprite Volšoveček.
As the characters navigate through the winter landscape, the story embodies the joy and challenges of the holiday season.
From the quest for the perfect fish to the unexpected gift of mushrooms from a friendly squirrel, each element adds a touch of whimsy and warmth to the festive preparations.
The tale beautifully weaves together the themes of generosity, camaraderie, and the true meaning of Christmas.
“Vánoce u Rumcajsů” entertains with its playful narrative and imparts a heartwarming message about the importance of goodwill and sharing during this special time of the year.
And it was the third Christmas. Early in the morning, Rumcajs and Manka from Jičín heard a loud noise. “They’re already killing carp in Jičín,” says Manka. “You should go, Rumcajs, and get a fish too.”
Rumcajs shook his head, “I’d prefer a black pudding (Kuba – recipe here) this year. That’s the true outlaw’s meal for Christmas Eve. Last year, even the prince couldn’t afford it.” At that moment, Manka seemed to have a different craving.
“Rumcajs, my tongue is twisting into a cone, and it’s only set on fish.” So, Rumcajs hoisted his son Cipísek onto his shoulder, and they set off to see the water sprite Volšoveček for a carp. The path was sometimes bare and slippery, sometimes covered with deep snow. The worst was near the pond above the dam, where the wind blew drifts onto the frozen stream.
Suddenly, Cipísek, being higher up, exclaimed, “Someone is lying in that drift.” It was a round fellow, rolling on his belly like a cradle and struggling to get up. “I know you,” said Rumcajs, “you’re Jičín’s grocer Kastl. What are you doing here?”
“I came out to let my stomach settle before dinner, and now this,” groaned Kastl.
Rumcajs and Cipísek lifted Kastl from the drift and stood him upright. The grocer started searching all his pockets to reward them. He found nothing but a handful of grains of barley that fell in there while he was at the counter. “I don’t have anything else,” said Kastl.
“Leave it, we wouldn’t take anything anyway,” said Rumcajs, but Kastl poured barley into the pocket of his cordovan jacket. Then Kastl hurried on toward Jičín.
Rumcajs and Cipísek only reached the pond and knocked on the dam. From a hole in the ice, the water sprite Volšoveček emerged. “What do you want?”
“A carp, Manka has a taste for it, and we need something to fry for Christmas Eve,” Rumcajs requested.
Volšoveček didn’t say a word, dived back under the ice, and soon handed a carp to Rumcajs. “Farewell.” And he disappeared back under the ice, and the water in the pond seemed to rise like a tear. Rumcajs cradled the beautiful carp in his arms and carried it home.
Cipísek joined him by his side. But as they walked, Rumcajs still felt like someone was watching him. He looked back, and there on the dam sat the water sprite Volšoveček, waving goodbye to the carp with his paw.
“Darn it, I shouldn’t have looked back,” said Rumcajs.
When they got to the cave, Rumcajs temporarily placed the carp in the pool and scooped a handful of pebbles from the dam to prevent it from swimming away.
“You have him in the pool, Manka,” he shouted to Cipísek. But he himself stood by the pool, a weight in his heart, still seeing Volšoveček sitting on the dam, waving goodbye to the carp. Somehow, Rumcajs clumsily turned on his heel! The pebble barrier collapsed, and the beauty of the carp flowed away in the stream. “I’m a fool!” shouted Rumcajs cheerfully for all of Řáholec to hear.
When he told Manka at home, she said, “Good deeds come at a cost. It cost us a lavish dinner.”
“That fish didn’t turn out well for us, Manka,” Rumcajs smiled, “so let’s make an honest outlaw one.” He slapped the pocket of his cordovan jacket, and the barley in the pocket rustled almost like bells.
“Alleluia,” said Manka, “we’ll have barley pudding for Christmas dinner.” “Glory, mashed barley with mushrooms!” sang Cipísek. Rumcajs poured the barley out of his pocket, and they immediately set up a pot on the hearth. A garlic clove was found, along with a peppercorn, salt, and a spark of badger fat under a nail. Only mushrooms were missing. There wasn’t a speck of them in the whole household.
“Like last year at Jičín Castle,” said Rumcajs. “And without mushrooms, pudding is just in vain.”
Then a squirrel rushed into the cave. It hooked onto Manka’s knee with its claw and laid a lap full of mushrooms in her lap. “I’ve been watching your trouble from that pine tree for a while,” she said. “So I’m bringing you something from my winter pantry. These are honey agarics, and these are horse mushrooms, so that the pudding turns out properly black.”
Before reaching for the knife to slice the squirrel’s gift into the pot, Rumcajs said, “A outlaw is better off than a prince if he has a squirrel as a good friend.”
Then they cooked pudding: from Kastl’s barley, salt, pepper, badger fat, and the squirrel’s gift. It smelled all the way to Jičín Castle. And when they had eaten that black pudding, they sang a brief outlaw carol:
“To the heavens, a curly comet flies,
the moon sprinkles stars from the skies.
Comet, like a cradle, rocks and sways,
spreading stardust all ablaze.”
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