Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Czech Customs Museum - Easter

Easter in the Czech Republic is one of the most important events in the year. I have blogged before about the custom of painting easter eggs and women being beaten with woven willow switches in return for luck and easter eggs before now. A troupe of my neighbours' children (girls and boys) went round the village collecting eggs, chanting Easter rhymes and waving switches on Easter Monday (although not necessarily in that order). Twenty-first century commercialism  has sadly got in on the act - if you are too lazy or have not been trained to make the switch yourself you can buy them in Tescos! As I have covered egg painting and switches in a previous post, I will leave my comments at that and move on to something else.

No, in this post I want to talk about a wonderful Prague museum, which is regularly and sadly overlooked by foreign visitors. My excuse for doing so, (not that I need an excuse, as this is my blog and I can post what I like) is that it is the Musaion - the Museum of Czech Ethnography - in Kinsky Gardens and of course features the Easter celebrations in its displays.

The picture from the museum collection above is of a figure of death or the old winter - called Caramura (in Moravia) or Morena (in the Sumava). The figure is usually made of straw and decorated with a necklace of eggs. The figure is processed to a river where it is torn apart, burnt and the remains thrown into the river. With winter dead, spring and Easter can begin. Other easter exhibits included a large collection of traditional decorated eggs (different areas have different forms of decoration) and switches.

In all the time I was in the museum, which was over an hour, I think there was only one other visitor. We were outnumbered by the old ladies who were the Museum's attendants. As I left I said "Muzeum je krasne" (the museum is beautiful), to which I got broad smiles Why wasn't the museum full of Czechs, let alone foreign tourists? I can't tell you how much I enjoyed the exhibits - there were exhibits on the Lent and Christmas, Masopust, Harvest festivals, birth and marriage traditions, traditional folk costumes, folkart, crafts and furniture and even more recent traditions such as the Czech hiking tradition. Most of the notices were in Czech, but all the rooms had summaries in English.

I combined my museum visit with a walk up onto Petrin Hill - another one of Prague's well-kept secrets. The Hill has is covered with woods and orchards and allows the best view of the old city. I went in spring, my favourite time for visiting the hill - it was covered with wildflowers (grape hyacinths, yellow stars of Bethlehem, blue squill and violets) and the fruit trees were in blossom.

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