December 5th and Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas This is without any doubt right after my Birthday now my favorite day of the year – December 5th. If you find yourself in Prague on this day, you have to make sure you will be outside when it gets dark – preferably on some big streets or squares, the best is of course the Old Town Square. And why? On this day you may meet in the streets of Prague face to face the St. Nicholas with the Devil and the Angel!

When I was a child I didn’t like this day. That is to say, that as soon as it gets dark out, St. Nicholas with his helpers walks in the streets of Prague handing out small presents to children. He is tall with a long white beard, dressed in long red robe, mitre on his head, with a golden bishops’ staff. He is a very wise man who knows everything. And that is why all kids are so nervous on this day! He even knows whether this or that child was good during the past year!

If the child was behaving well, he or she will receive a present from him, usually some candies, nuts or fruits. However, if he or she was not behaving well all year, the Devil will put the child into his sack and take him or her to Hell! That is why all Czech children are unusually good on this day.

I find this very educational for the children. On this day, all children thing about what they have done in the past and usually come into conclusion that they could be better – clean their rooms, eat the vegetables, brush their teeth, listen to parents and so on. So when it comes to the question of St. Nicholas: “Have you been good this year?” they usually promise to the St. Nicholas that they will be better from now on.

If St. Nicholas wants to make the child to think about his or her behavior, the Devil with a tail and horns will rattle the chains and open his sack. At this moment, Angel, who acts as a counterweight to the Devil, dressed in a white gown and with wings will start pleading for the child. If St. Nicholas is still unsure, children usually sing a song or say a poem and that will convince St. Nicholas that they are good.

Czech parents hire sometimes “St. Nicholas and his helpers” to come to their home to threaten a bit their fractious children. It is a good one-day-job for students mostly, or some family friends who dress up and play St. Nicholas. This “St. Nicholas” is well informed by the parents and therefore is the performance very effective.

When unseen, St. Nicholas leaves his presents in the children’s room based on their pre-behavior. Good Czech children receive above all a chocolate calendar, which is a special calendar – there is a chocolate for every day till the Christmas Eve. Bad children usually receive potatoes or coal.

In Prague, streets are filled with Devils rattling chains, beautiful Angels and of course St. Nicholas himself. I would definitely recommend you to visit the Old Town Square around 4pm. Every year about this time, there is a contest for the best St. Nicholas, Angel and Devil. So hopefully you have been good this year… If not, have some poem or song ready at hand!

© 2008 |