Thursday 6 December 2007

Mikuláš - St Nicholas' Day

Today, December the 6th is St Nicholas’s day. As in Saint Nicolaus, Santa Claus to you and I.

In the Czech Republic it’s the first real day of the Christmas season and like all good medieval traditions, it’s celebrated the evening before, i.e. on the 5th. (This is because, before clocks and watches were in widespread use, sunset was considered the natural end of the day. So twilight on the 5th was the beginning of the 6th).

On the evening of December 5th, St Nicholas (Sv. Mikuláš in Czech), the Angel and the Devil (or Devils) come to find out which children have been good and which have been bad. If you’ve been good the angel will give you a treat, probably something sweet. If you’ve been bad it might just be a potato or a lump of coal. If you’ve been really bad, you might find yourself bundled into the devil’s sack and carted off to hell!

Sounds scary doesn’t it? Not many kids actually seem to get carried away by the devils, but some of them sure do get a fright. The newspaper this week had an interview with a psychiatrist who said that every year he sees at least one child scared badly enough for the parents to have sought his professional help.

For those of us too old to get sweets or be carted away, it’s fun to watch the antics of the costumed characters and, at least in the city that I live in, the big public Christmas tree is lit for the first time and there’s a ten-minute long fireworks display that brings five or six thousand people down to the main square.

The families with children usually make their way home after the fireworks, leaving everybody else to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate or mulled wine from one of the market stalls, while the next band gets ready to play up on stage.

It’s good fun and a real part of local life, so if you’re travelling around at this time of year, make sure you’re not stuck on a train somewhere on the evening of December 5th.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Who invited all those people??