If you happen to venture outside on the 5th of December, perhaps to grab a bite to eat, or to explore some of Prague's world renowned Christmas markets... be prepared to see an unusual sight.
On December 5th, many Czechs celebrate St. Nicholas (Mikuláš). People dress up as Mikuláš or the angel or devil, and usually travel in a group of three, sparking fear and delight in the hearts of children across the country. Unlike the Santa Claus that is popular in the United States, this individual is quite a bit scarier and celebrated in a different manner. If a child was good, they will receive a treat – usually in exchange for the child reciting poetry or singing a short song – but if the child was naughty that year, they are warned they may be thrown in a sack and dragged to hell; the angel is there to intercede on their behalf. Light stuff, I know.
Although some of the specifics of the tradition’s origins have become controversial in past years – the depiction of the devil’s character more specifically – the holiday is widely celebrated and a fair number of people dress up. Even though I was not expecting to see it, it really is one of those amazing reminders that learning more about a culture and a country is an ongoing experience filled with happy unexpected moments. I have also been warned by a couple of professors that carp is a traditional Christmas meal, and that we shouldn't be surprised to see it sold by the street and at markets.
I recommend, if you are here in December: Take a short walk from the Machova dorm to Namesti Miru, or around Old Town square. Grab a bite to eat at one of the Christmas markets.Perhaps do some christmas and souvenir shopping. Taste some of the Czech Republic’s mulled wine or kinderpunsch, and of course see this holiday for yourself!