Christmas time, Czech style: St Nicolas and some Tasmanian Devils

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2013_12_Mikulas

A rather camera shy St Nicholas and his fetching assistants snapped by Ms Girlova on the streets of Prague.

Greetings readers! It’s December and Christmas time is fast approaching. I do enjoy the build-up to Christmas in Czechland (even if I’m not the biggest fan of the menu on the big day — carp is just a bit too fishy in my view to be a feast).

I remember being a child and looking forward to Chrimbletide so much I thought I might explode. In England, advent — the seemingly endless twenty four days beforehand — can be a bit boring for a small person. Okay, there’s are those little chocolates to be retrieved from behind the doors of the calendar every day, Christmas cards to write out and swap at school, the tree to decorate, but otherwise, not much happens until the 25th.

If you’re a Czech child, the Christmas antics start a little earlier. December 5th (yes, that’s today people) is St Nicolas Day on which St Nicolas (aka Mikuláš), accompanied by an angel and a devil, roam the streets giving out gifts to the little ones who’ve behaved themselves all year.

So far, so good. What happens if you have been just a bit too naughty?

Why, the devil drags you off to hell, of course!

These fluffy beasties are tasmanian devils. They might bite you if you poke them but they won't drag you to hell. Copyright Zooki (creative commons license).

These fluffy beasties are tasmanian devils. They might bite you if you poke them but they won’t drag you to hell. Copyright Zooki (creative commons license).

You have to hand it to the Czechs. They know how to instil discipline in children. It’s no good just bribing the little blighters with the promise of prezzies if they’re good; you need to have the big menacing stick of burning in hellfire for eternity if you play up* once too often.

St Nicolas is a busy chap on December 5th as you can imagine. He doesn’t just wander the streets but also visits children in their homes (by prior arrangement with their parents, naturally). Czechman will be reprising his starring role as Mikulas this year, accompanied by a couple of mates, including a particularly dashing male angel who looks worrying good in tights.

Of course, sadly, I can’t provide you with photo evidence of Czechman and co in action.

Instead the photo at the top is of some random strangers I managed to snap on my way home from Christmas shopping today — for Czechman’s niece. What a lovely girlfriend I am.

And let’s not forget  the true essence of this time of year: wanton consumerism. Here are some free gifts that I was given in the street as a St Nicolas Day treat from various companies. No doubt they hope that if I try their shower gel, instant coffee and cup-a-soups, I’m destined to pop them in my basket on my next trip to the supermarket.

Here are those super-duper free gifts! Who said Christmas was more exciting when you were a kid?

Here are those super-duper free gifts! Who said Christmas was more exciting when you were a kid?

That’s all for now. I hope to bring you more stocking filler sized posts in the run-up to Christmas — which I’ll be spending in England. Watch this (cyber) space!

Probably a bit late to respond to this particular ad, but who knows, perhaps they'll need someone next year?

Probably a bit late to respond to this particular ad, but who knows, perhaps they’ll need someone next year?

* ‘Play up’ is one of those tricky phrasal verbs Czech readers — ‘to play’ is of course, innocent kiddie behaviour, but ‘to play up’ means to misbehave. For example, ‘Stop playing me up or you’ll get a smack’ is one particular phrase which my father regularly used when discipling me. Was I frequently very naughty or was he just frequently hungover? Only those present at the time can say…

12 Comments

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12 Responses to Christmas time, Czech style: St Nicolas and some Tasmanian Devils

  1. richardinprague

    Hi, Girl,

    Thanks for the posting and the pictures. So, Czechman enjoys dressing as Mikulas? I normally don my Father Christmas outfit for the children in our area, as well as for our Christmas party at work. (Some of us never grow up!)

    One note from the Pedant inside me, though: December 5th is actually Jitka’s name day, while Mikulas celebrates his on the 6th. This evening is actually St Mikulas’s Eve – but you’re right, today’s the day you see him and his two partners frightening the little ones :-)

    Take care, and Season’t greetings!

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Richard,

      Yes, Czechman does indeed dress up as St Mikulas — although he only started last year when he stepped in at the last minute as the original Saint Nick went down with something. Apparently the kids in question were scared of him at first but he can’t have done so badly as he’s been invited back this year. Apparently St Mikulas is rewarded with plenty of booze — not sure if this is typical but perhaps my readers can let me know. :)

      And yes, please do correct me when I make egregious errors –I do like learning things from my readers :)

      Seasons Greetings from Ms Girlova!

  2. Hi GIC,
    You beat me to it – I was about to write on my blog, all about Sv. Mikuláš Eve :-) But I must agree with Richard in Prague in his comment, Sv. Mikuláš Day is tomorrow, 6th December. All the fun that you describe as happening today, more strictly this evening, is because of the adoption by the Christian Church, of the Jewish practice of the day starting at sunset the previous evening, and ending at sunset the next day.

    Please forgive me for continuing in religious teacher mode. Whilst Advent, (proper noun, hence capital letter), does last 24 days this year, despite what Advent calendar manufactures believe, it doesn’t always start on 1st December. It starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, meaning it can begin on any day between 27th November and 3rd December. And surely in British English, the language we both speak, it should be ‘Nicholas’ and not ‘Nicolas’.

    Now – having said all of that, I look forward to all your promised posts in the run-up to Christmas. And I offer my sympathies to Czechman for being abandoned by his young lady at Christmastime.

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Ricky,

      I fear we may have had this conversation about Advent before, which does make it a touch embarrassing that I’ve somehow managed to get it wrong again. Ach jo. Having said that, I suppose the heathen hyper-commercial version of Advent has to start on 1st December as it would just be too much to ask for those festive calendar makers to alter their designs every year to accomodate the date change:)

      But as I said to Richard, I really do welcome it when readers point out my slip-ups. I’m not sure what happened with the Nicholas/Nicolas business — perhaps it’s just a sign that I’ve lived abroad for too long and have utterly lost my linguistic bearings.

      Hope you’re enjoying what must be a very busy time of year for you. And don’t feel too sorry for Czechman: he’ll get to enjoy a Czech family Christmas with all the carp-y trimmings — and his (quite) new nephew!

      GIC

      • Hi again GIC,
        One of the many reasons I so enjoy your blog is your willingness to acknowledge when you’ve got something slightly wrong & promptly post a thankful reply for the correction. This is exactly my philosophy with my blog – I’m always grateful to anyone who spots a factual or spelling error.

        Regarding the question as to when Advent begins, you are in good company. I well remember having to make a similar explanation to the Head Teacher of a Church of England Primary School in the group of parishes of which I was previously Rector :-) The same Head Teacher also wrote ‘alter’ when it should have been ‘altar’, until I explained that she needed to alter it :-)

  3. gil

    Hello Czechgirl, yet another lovely blog post. I was particularly delighted to see your use of the dread phrase “phrasal verbs”.

    Despite English A Level (maturita) and my 72 years of age, I had never heard the phrase till I started to live in the CR some 14 years ago. And then people began questioning me fiercely about the damn things. (By the way, before someone picks me up on it, it is perfectly fine to start a sentence with a preposition ;-) ) I had to learn about them pretty quickly….

    I am also having a lovely vision of your father enrolling you in his band of disciples……

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Gil,

      Yep, phrasal verbs — they are a nightmare for learners (and indeed teachers) of English.

      My father is something of a character: I’m sure, if I had the inclination, I could devote an entire blog just to him and his eccentricities. However, as Girl in Czechland is supposed to be, well, about Czechland, I’ll just have to restrict myself to my own antics and those of the Village People…

      GIC

  4. Hi from Bosnia and Herzegovina,

    Just came across your blog and wanted to say how cool it is. Really enjoying your experiences which i really relate to as I too am now settled in anothe country with a massively different culture than the UK

    Anyway, stay safe and as warm as you can

    Bests

    David

  5. Mark

    Wonder read as usual GIC I so often laugh out loud reading your blog. Czech people are great but I do find some of their ways amusing and I mean that in a nice way.

    Have you ever treated Czech man to a traditional English Christmas dinner? He doesn’t know what he’s missing if not. All the best GIC.

  6. Sarka

    Hello GIC, I just have to add something from my memories of our way of celebrating Svatý Mikuláš. When I and my brother were kids and teenagers our parents didn’t invite the devil, Nick and angel to our home (I remember them being there only once) and we didn’t go to the streets to meet them.

    In the morning of 6th of December there were sweets and fruits in baskets on our windows of our rooms. They were given by St. Nicholas – chocolates, bon bons, exotic fruits (nashi pear, star fruit) and normal fruits like orange, apple. Nothing expensive. It was nice to know that in the morning when I wake up there will be something sweet and tasty from our mum maintaining the tradition. It no longer happens I’m too old :-)

  7. Katy

    Hi GIC, as a “Czechgirl” I really love your blog, since it brings new and refreshing perspective to my view of us, Czechs.
    I just want to calm you about the St. Nicholas “Devil-drags-you-off-to-hell, where-you’ll-be-burning-for-eternity-if-you-misbehave” thing. It’s not the first time i’ve heard some concerns from “not-czech” people about this threats made to children . But you need to understand the concept of religion in Czech Rep. – it is practically nonexistent. We’re mostly an athetist country and, unlike for example US, the Devil doesn’t represent any kind od evil or something, it’s just something historical and mythical and obsolete. We even have two words for “a devil” – “ďábel” (which translates as “a devil”) and then “čert” – and I don’t know, how to translate that. It’s more like a funny word – čert is just a funny villain character; for better undestanding just imagine a villain from a random cartoon, where the poor bad guy never achieves anything really evil. And exactly this “čert” is in the St. Nicholas trio. Kids aren’t scared of the idea, more like they’re temporarilly startled by the costume, if it’s ugly enough. (When I was little, I was OK with the “čert”, but I almost peed myself once getting scared of the good guy St. Nicholas. The PTSD therapy took a lot of chocolate.)
    So that’s just for your information from an insider,
    Happy Holidays,
    Katy

  8. J

    What happened? So long and no new blog entry :-(

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