Czech Republic: Christmas Time is Here

This is the eleventh installment in a series of essays by globe-trotter Kevin Nguyen, who is currently studying at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. With good holiday spirits, Kevin attempts to wrap his head around Czech Christmas traditions, which involve rope, blackface, magical pigs, and the Second Coming.

Old Town Square features a cute Christmas market where you can buy all sorts of seasonal knick-knacks. There’s also a grand evergreen, majestically decorated with ornaments and red and gold lights. One thing about the tree bothers me though. For some reason, it’s also adorned with dozens of blinking white lights, which are bright enough to cause temporary blindness if looked at. This magnificent symbol of Christmas looks like a mob of paparazzi swarming Paris Hilton’s limo.

It’s no secret that Christmas traditions vary from country to country, but the Czech Republic’s take on the holiday is a fair bit different.

For starters, St. Nicholas, or as he’s called here, Svaty Mikalas, doesn’t live in the North Pole. I think this is fine. I mean, the idea of living in the North Pole is somewhat ridiculous anyway, but instead, the Czechs choose to believe that good ‘ol St. Nick descends from the heavens. Not only that, but he does so by golden rope, which seems like a far less efficient way to travel than flight-capable reindeer.

Oddly enough, St. Nicholas is accompanied by his two friends: an angel and a whip-carrying devil. I’m not really sure why they’re there, but my best guess–with a figure as high-profile as Santa Claus–is that the angel serves as his public relations rep, while the devil provides some sort of bodyguard-like protection.

It should also be noted that the Czech devil is a black woman. On December 6th, St. Nicholas Day, there was no shortage of little kids running around Old Town Square celebrating the season in blackface.

Some might see this as “politically incorrect,” but it’s better if you just tiptoe around the blatant racism. St. Nicholas rewards the good children with toys, while the black woman devil whips all of the bad boys and girls. It’s like seeing Aunt Jemima on Christmas Eve, only, instead of bringing you pancakes, she physically abuses you. And maybe it’s just best to assume that had these naughty children grown up a century ago, they would’ve been slave-owners and probably deserved a good whipping anyway.

Still, I think the strangest tradition of the Czech Republic is fasting on Christmas Eve. I can understand not eating for events such as Yom Kippur, in which abstaining from food and drink observes the Day of Atonement. Here, according to Czech tradition/superstition, he or she who fasts will see the “golden piglet” on the wall.

That’s right. Apparently the hunger of not eating for an entire day can lead to hallucinations of a golden pig. I’ve asked several people why anyone would want to even see this magical golden pig, but no one could really give me an actual answer. I can’t imagine anything this mystical swine could give me that would be worth fasting for, unless the pig could provide me with impunity from the black devil woman’s whippings.

It’s not St. Nicholas that delivers the presents either. Instead, the bearer of gifts is none other than Baby Jesus (Ježíšek). He comes through the window and leaves presents shortly after dinner, which seems less tactful than our American Santa Claus, who is smart enough to invade your home while you’re asleep. Unlike St. Nicholas, Baby Jesus is a more abstract figure, taking no known physical form.

I’m no theology scholar, but I am almost certain that the return of Jesus–even if it is an amorphous baby incarnation–marks the Second Coming. I’m not sure what’s more unbelievable: that the Second Coming is an annual event or that Jesus would decide to come back to the Czech Republic instead of America.

I’ll have to call up St. Nick’s angel public relations rep to double-check this story.

Read more from Czech Republic.

Kevin Nguyen is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. His only marketable skill is an above-average knowledge of European geography. He has been useless since the introduction of the atlas in 1477. Reach him by email or follow his Twitter account.