The tradition goes that on the 5th of December the children gather round the three figures of Saint Nicholas, the Angel, and the Devil as Saint Nicholas asks them if they behaved well during the year. Naturally, most children jump up excitedly and say “Yes!” They’re then asked to sing a song or recite a short poem, which they do with much enthusiasm knowing that they will be rewarded with sweets and other treats.
But if they misbehaved and their answer is “no” they receive a sack of black coal or hard potatoes! And if they were deemed really bad, they are put into a sack and taken to hell!
This story, told over many generations, scares the local children of Prague enough to almost guarantee good behaviour!
There really was a Christian Saint Nicholas. He lived in Greece, just a couple hundred years after the birth of Christ, and Mikulas Day is celebrated in honour of Saint Nicholas and his life.
Saint Nicholas became a priest and, later, a Bishop of the early Catholic Church. True to the Christian concept of giving up belongings and following Christ, St. Nicholas gave up all of his worldly goods. He was well known for helping out people in need – especially children.
The practice of hanging up stockings originated with Saint Nicholas. Legend has it that one day, one of the small bags of gold that were thrown into poor households by Saint Nicholas fell into the stocking of a child. News got around and children began hanging their stocking by their chimneys, hoping that St. Nicholas would arrive.
It wasn’t until the 1800’s that the spirit of St. Nicholas’ life evolved into the creation of what we now know as Santa Claus.
Around the time of Christmas in Prague, the city comes to life in the Old Town Square between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. You can wander through the city centre from Old Town Square to Wenceslas Square, stopping off at the red-canopied wooden huts for wooden toys, embroidered lace and traditional Christmas decorations. You may want to buy a Czech glass bauble ornament – they are known for their quality and aesthetic appeal and make a wonderful souvenir. Be sure to take children to see the nativity scene at Old Town Square, where they can pet sheep, goats and the Christmas donkey.
The market stalls, which resemble wooden huts, invite tourists to treat themselves to a host of culinary delights and tasty beverages, and are open until midnight. As evening falls, lights are illuminated and the Old Town square becomes a magical feast for the eyes.
Tourists come early during holiday season to experience Christmas in Prague in a very unique way, not seen in other parts of the world.
When celebrating Christmas in Prague, be aware that it will be very cold and you may even experience a downpour of fresh snow. Layers are recommended as well as boots and thick socks if you intend to do a lot of walking.
Make sure to plan ahead and book early so that you can get the best prices available for flights, airport transport and accommodation at this expensive time of the year.