Today, December 5th, is the eve of St Nicholas (Svatý Mikuláš) Day in the Czech Republic. On this day, while living in Prague, we enjoyed taking our children down to Malá Strana, walking across Charles Bridge (Karluv Most), and slowly making our way to the Christmas Market in Staré Město (Old Town Square).
Czech folklore says that St. Nicholas descends from heaven on a golden rope with his two companions, an angel and a devil (representing good and evil). They come to ask children the age old Christmas question, “Have you been naughty or nice?” If you are good you will be given candy, fruit, a small gift or toy and if you have been VERY VERY bad you’ll get thrown into the devil’s sack and dragged by chains to the bowels of hell (see photo below). Like Krampus in other parts of Europe, the Czech devil hands out coal, switches, raw potatoes, etc to naughty children.
This tradition may sound a bit creepy but it’s all in good fun.
Before going to bed on this eve, Czech children hang their stockings.
In the morning, the children wake excited to find their stockings filled with treats and maybe a switch or a piece of coal thrown in for laughs. After all, children are a delightful mixture of naughty and nice. In the Czech tradition it is the Christ Child who brings gifts on Christmas Eve. My kids are teenagers now, but they like keeping traditions, especially those involving sweets. I’ve got a candy stash ready and waiting for St Nicholas’ visit tonight. My kids are pretty awesome, but maybe I’ll throw in a small potato each 🙂
Another interesting tradition that appears on Czech sidewalks right before Christmas are tubs of live flipping-flopping carp. Fried Carp is a Czech Christmas delicacy. You have two options when purchasing your sidewalk carp – have the fishmonger butcher it for you right there on the spot or take your fish home alive in a bag of water and let it swim in your bathtub until you are ready to prepare him for dinner (not joking). In my opinion fried carp is just okay – too many bones for my liking. I prefer to keep the carp tradition in the form of fish shaped cookies.