Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Christmas Celebrations in the Czech Republic

I am in Britain and it feels very strange. Normally I am able to have two Christmases - the Czech and the British. That is because the Czech Christmas starts with St Nicholas Day on the 6th December, when the squares and streets fill up with people dressed as angels, devils and St Nick himself. Excited children are asked by the three whether they have been good or bad over the year and are given their rewards (usually) or punishments. The shops are stocked with chocolate or marzipan versions of the three interrogators. In the Czech Republic Christmas lasts for weeks ending on 12th Night or Three Kings Day (more of the latter in a future post).

Last year I was in Prague for St Nicholas Day and found myself travelling on a tram filled with children and their parents heading for the city's squares. Also on the tram and travelling with the same purpose were a number of the seasonal characters. Actually there were more devils than angels and more angels than saints, but then the devil always has the best (and warmest) costumes and it was bitterly cold. A group of students sat at the end of the carriage half-heartedly sporting plastic red horns and facepaint, which could have been picked up in any supermarket. But some people take the business seriously. For part of the journey I sat opposite a man in the most impressive devil costume. His horns had formerly adorned the head of a ram. His clothes were made of leather, fur and sheepskin and his boots (in which he was presumably hiding his cloven hooves) were traditional leather Czech ones. The age of the boots hinted that this costume had been decades in the creation, an inheritance perhaps. The contrast with the students couldn't have been greater. 

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