Thursday, 6 December 2007

Czechs & the Devil

In shops all over the Czech Republic now you can buy chocolate devils, angels and St Nicholas ready for the Christmas celebrations. On the night before St Nicholas' Day (today) Cesky Krumlov Town Square fills up with people – adults and children - dressed as the saint, accompanied by devils and angels. That said the devils always seem to be in the majority – Satan has all the best fancy dress outfits!

Most years I try to buy my son a devil by way of a family joke, even though now he is 19 and is surely past all that. Ask a Czech why you have devils as well as angels and saints at Christmas and they will look at you and say that you cannot have angels without devils. How true. In Britain we have sanitised our beliefs and taken out the difficult, awkward bit – God as warm feeling but without edges. Don't scare the children.

The Czech approach is far healthier. “Have you been a good girl?” has a quite different feel to it, when asked by a saint, an angel and someone wearing horns, rather than by some redundant old geezer in red coat, false beard and bad breath, whose real identity is lost. And so the Czech child grows up with the devil – he is dad with a red face and horns, he is a chocolate figure wrapped in bright foil. He is comical, he is scary, he is ever present. But then Czech children grow up with angels too.

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