ALEXANDRA FRICOVA, a 25-year-old native of the Czech Republic who is spending 12 months as an au pair with the family of Boro and Nancy Djordjevic of Severna Park, is learning a new set of holiday traditions.
"The biggest difference between the way Christmas is celebrated in my country and here is that we have no Santa Claus," Fricova explained. "Baby Jesus gives out the gifts."
And how is a baby able to give out presents?
"I just consider that his secret," she said with her typically shy smile. "It's not my business to know how he does it."
Fricova erases any notion of Christmas gardens with tiny houses and animals nestling under Czech Christmas trees.
"Under the tree have to be gifts," she said.
And there is no turkey on the Fricova Christmas table. Instead, there's carp: carp soup for the first course, and baked carp as the main course. Each guest searches under his or her plate for the lucky fish scale, a charm that is to be carried in the wallet.
The most endearing tradition of the Czech Christmas meal is an act of sharing. Each person at the table carefully divides a single piece of fruit and serves everyone else -- no small task, because there usually are 14 or 15 people seated around the Fricova family table.
There's a difference in weather, too. The temperature in the Czech Republic usually is below freezing this time of year.
Fricova learned a couple of weeks ago from her mother that about a foot of snow covers the ground in her hometown.
Fricova said she has wanted to be an au pair since before she graduated from high school and enrolled at Charles University in Prague, one of the world's oldest universities, founded in 1348.
She taught math and history in an elementary school, then earned bachelor's and master's degrees in geology. And along the way, she taught children to ski.
Fricova arrived in New York July 6 for a week of orientation with other young au pairs from Europe before she began her assignment in Severna Park. She said she was "so excited, like Alice [in Wonderland]."
But she was concerned about English, she said.
"I was so shy, I couldn't talk; I just got red," she recalled.
As it turned out, she needn't have worried. She ranked well above the advanced level on the placement tests she took for vTC English as a second-language classes at Anne Arundel Community College.
When she returns home in July, Fricova will have plenty of time before next Christmas to teach her family the holiday traditions she's learning here.
Pub Date: 12/24/98