Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Celebrating Mikulaš

Last night was the Czech Mikulaš holiday. While not celebrated in the US, the gist of it probably won’t sound that strange to anyone who has read at all about Christmas traditions or learned in school about other lands’ Christmas festivities. Costumed figures of Mikulaš (St. Nicholas), an angel, and the devil ask kids whether they were good during the year. Naturally, most children say yes, and get treats. If they say no (this is hard to imagine, but I suppose some children feel oppressed by guilt already by the age of three), they get coal, and there’s the threat of being put in the devil’s sack and taken to hell. (You can read further about it on this English-language page.)
Had I been thinking about all this during the day (the Národní knihovna is not a hotbed of Mikulaš festivities), I might have taken a closer look at what was going on at Staroměstské náměstí, where it turns out there are lots of Mikulaš-related events (to some extent, Prague celebrates Mikulaš all week!). However, it didn’t really dawn on me that this was the exact day until I was stuck in the crowds surging between Staroměstské náměstí and Václavské náměstí. There were quite a few costumed figures, plus loads of people of all ages wearing light-up horns in various colors. (Only one of my photos of this turned out well enough to bother posting.)
Since small children, even those who claim to have been good, know perfectly well that they aren’t always well-behaved, there is a certain amount of anxiety involved in celebrating Mikulaš. Indeed, there’s now some discussion as to whether to involve children in it or at least how to prepare them for it, as I noticed while reading a magazine over a woman’s shoulder on the tram. The lead article on the page inquired “Mikulaš and the Devil—yes or no?” (my rough translation from memory). Two fairly detailed columns agonized over the psychology of the thing.
Of course, the magazine page spread was not complete without an adjacent article entitled “Mám ohnutý penis.” I’m not sure why anyone was so worried about the latter issue unless the organ in question was shaped like a pretzel. I’m sure it functioned just fine even if it looked like a corkscrew.

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Anonymous Jesse said...

At the Mikulas celebration I was at the children were actually pretty honest. They were addressed by a bearded St. and, as the devil went through his "Book of Sins" (e.g., irritating your teacher, not cleaning your ears, not doing what your mother tells you to do, or picking on your classmates), many of the kids were laughing and saying yes. It seemed like a pretty lighthearted affair. And, if the kids don't celebrate it then there would hardly be anything going on at all because as far as I could tell it's one of those holidays that's for kids.

December 06, 2005 2:34 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

I guess that if someone asked me specifically about sins like that, I would have had to confess that I was bad on a continual basis. (This will not surprise anyone who knows me.)

Presumably people will go on celebrating Mikulaš. Everyone out last night seemed to be having a great time.

December 06, 2005 9:38 PM  

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