Well last weekend the Christmas markets in Prague opened and they are everywhere. It seems as though all the squares in the center of Prague have at least a small grouping of Christmas themed booths selling Czech and just general holiday food as well as locally made souvenirs and gifts. As a Christmas crazy person I absolutely love this but it also confuses me a bit. I didn’t know this before coming to the Czech Republic, and I’m not sure most Americans do, but The Czech Republic is around 90% atheist. It is this fact that really confuses me about why there is still so much Christmas stuff around. When I asked my host brother about it he essentially said that they celebrate Christmas minus the really religious parts. I still find it hilarious however, that it is the baby Jesus who delivers presents to the children rather than Santa Claus.
The Czechs have very interesting holiday traditions and several details of some of them really shocked me at first but I’d like to share what I’ve learned about the Christmastime holidays. This past weekend was the holiday of Svaty Mikulas. In english this is St. Nicholas. Many people think of St. Nicholas as another name for Santa Claus but here he is just a regular saint. On St. Nicholas day the many of the adult Czechs dress up to fear and delight the children. There are three costumes they wear and the costumed people normally walk around in pairs of three or fours. One costume is that of Saint Nicholas another is an angel and the third (and sometimes fourth) person is dressed up as a devil. As it was explained to me these pairs of threes walk around to houses with children in them and either reward or scare the children into being good. The devil threatens that they will take the children away or give them coal and then either the angel or saint Nicholas intercedes on the child’s behalf and gives them either gifts or candy. A fun holiday strangely similar in some ways to Halloween however with a swap on who dresses up!
On Christmas eve some Czech families go to church though now often it’s more typical for families and friends to gather together for the traditional Christmas meal of fried carp and potato salad. I know it doesn’t sound all that delicious to me either. I’ve heard most Czech’s don’t like it the rest of the year but as a Christmas meal they can’t think of having anything else.