Czech Christmas in America
It was a six-hour drive from Philadelphia to a small village in Massachusetts to visit Grandma and Grandfather for Christmas. During the journey, Count Henry Francis Kolowrat would sit with a dog named Red in his lap, who would try to attack every toll collector in their blue uniforms at every toll gate on the highway. Christmas Eve dinner for 23 adults and children, each year followed the same script and those funny stories are not forgotten. These are Henry Kolowrat's memories of Czech Christmas in America, where he was also born. How does a nobleman find himself in Deloitte? And how does he remember his grandfather?
“Our family Christmas started every year according to the same scenario: we all went to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house in Massachusetts, and when Aunt Eva’s husband, an Irish-American, would pull a large bottle of Irish whiskey out of his bag, we new the family celebration had started. My father and his brothers would then lament that we didn’t have enough food because we only had two carp, which of course wouldn’t do. So the guys would to go and buy some chicken to make cutlets. It’s incredible that this scenario was repeated almost every year,” recalls Henry with a smile.
Henry st. and Marie’s house where everyone met for Christmas. The photo is from 1951.
“From time to time, it was our job to bring the carp, but they were not so easy to find in Philadelphia. A Christmas without carp would be a scandal, at least for our grandfather. We looked everywhere, and finally discovered a Vietnamese shop where a huge carp was swimming in an aquarium at the back of the shop. However, it seemed to be quite old.”
Grandpa was excited about the huge carp. But assumption about the age of the carp was accurate, and after frying the meat it was clear that it was not meant for eating. “But the soup was delicious, Grandma Marie was a great cook. Fortunately, the boys had already made their usual trip to pick up extra chicken fillets, so we enjoyed another classic Czech Christmas.“
There was a table for the adults and one for the children. Henry describes that when a child got a chance to sit at the adult table, it was assumed to be a dig deal. “However, only at first sight. My grandfather was noisy, had no patience, and demanded that food come quickly. He had a very strong personality and was a tough guy, so you can imagine that actually getting to sit at the adult table was not always the privilege it seemed. On the other hand, my grandfather was also a big optimist. That was one of the reasons he lived to such an old age – he died at the age of 98 in Prague.”
Christmas at the Kolowrats, including all 5 children of Henry and Marie, including most of the grandchildren.
At Czech Christmas, of course, gifts are exchanged on December 24th. Henry remembers how, after dinner, the parents made all 11 children go into a small bathroom where they had to wait for Santa to come with the gifts. When the children came out the craziness began. “As soon as we got the signal, a bunch of children rushed to the tree and began ripping open the presents without thinking. After the frenzy the correct gift would find its way to the correct child. Somewhat more calmly came the gifts for the parents. My grandfather liked detective books, but he was tough to please and he always said immediately what he thought of the gift, often with the help of a few rude words if he did not approve. It wasn’t easy to get the right gift for Grandpa.”
The Massachusetts Christmas tradition was kept together until 1996. Then the family, including children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, started to move to different places. Henry came to Czechoslovakia in the early 90s. He brough his girlfriend turned wife Joanne, with him and after their first year, they decided to stay for a while longer. But it wouldn’t be the Kolowrats without a funny story again. “My wife is a first generation Korean-American. So she looks Korean, speaks like an American, has a Czech surname and speaks Czech pretty well – an interesting combination. Before the Czech Republic joined the European Union it was always interesting to see the confused reactions of the border guards when coming back into the Czech Republic.”
After grandmother’s death in 1987, grandfather Henry began considering to move back to his homeland, from which he emigrated in 1948. “After returning, he was still strong, even though he was 92 years old. He often commented that if he had another ten years, he could really get something done. But he enjoyed his time after returning home.”
Recipe for the long life of Henry’s grandfather. Healthy body and healthy spirit. Exercising on an exercycle which at first glance inspires respect but the children lamented that Grandfather never took a day off even early Christmas morning when he would arise and make noise.
Did Henry ever feel he was of a noble family? “In the 1990s, I was driving a little faster than I should, and a police patrol stopped me. I tried to negotiate my way out of a fine … the policeman looked my passport and asked me if I was a member of the Kolowrat family. I replied that yes, but I am from originally from America, where the name Kolowrat has no meaning at all. The policeman said dryly that the name didn’t mean much here and gave me a small fine…”
He added that he was half American, half Czech, he was a member of the Kolowrat family, but that’s about it… “The family name only helped once when my grandfather in America was looking for a good school for his three sons. Knowing who he was talking to, the headmaster offered a discount on tuition. So the peerage at least gave them a quantity discount,” he laughs at another memory.
Henry’s reminiscence of Christmas in America closes with another trip with the dog named Red, who on the lap of three children sitting in the back of the car side by side completed another six-hour journey. “Aside from the fact that Red had always had some ‚stomach trouble‘ and which was tough for us because we couldn’t open the window because of the cold, he would again bark and go crazy on the highway when we stopped at the toll gate where there was always a man in a blue uniform who collecting money. Red of course would and tried to jump to catch the toll collector at all 12 toll gates! Another difficult journey!”
”Why I joined Deloitte? In 2013, I started a small business with a Czech business partner. A few years later when the business was operating relatively well, I realized that since my partner was very talented, I was not really working full time. We decided that he would run the business (I would help on financial things occassionally) but that I would look for a new challenge.
Through various connections I ended up having several discussions with Mirek Svoboda. I felt that with since I had plenty of local business contacts, a knowledge of the local conditions plus some experience early in my career working as a key account manager this was a challenge I was very interested in and I felt I could bring some value to Deloitte. Fortunately, Mirek had the same opinion and I joined Deloitte in June of 2018.“