Friday, December 09, 2005

Preparing for Christmas

On the whole, Christmas in the Czech Republic is much like Christmas in North America. True, the Czechs are largely atheists, but this does not stop them from appreciating and celebrating a good winter holiday. People get together, usually with family, eat well, and exchange gifts.
While the Czech Christmas is indeed becoming alarmingly commercialized, I think that the only way it has really caught up to the United States in this regard is in the date that the Christmas decorations go up in stores. I always feel that it is suitable to put them up around Thanksgiving, and the US has long since begun to put them up much earlier than that, but decorations went up here in October. I could not approve, although I wanted to take some pictures of Tesco’s in-store decorations and never quite got around to it.
When it comes to things like cards and wrapping paper, however, the Czechs have not really gone wild yet. As far as I can remember, they have had a small selection of cards, and when I spent Christmas here in 1988 (I think I had sent cards from the US before arriving), I was merely glad to see that there were finally some good-quality postcards of Prague in the snow, of Josef Lada scenes, and of holiday baked goods. Wrapping paper at that time was of rather poor quality both in the paper itself and in the relatively monochromatic printing (which tended to be in pink, yellow, or blue), but since Czech culture was not heavily consumerist at the time, the paper had a certain simple charm. (All right, Jessica, throw the Ostalgie label at me!)
Now that the Czech Republic, or at least cities like Prague and Brno, has gone back to capitalism with a wild fervor, and huge malls are springing up like mushrooms (one hopes they do not take the place of mushrooms in Czech culture), I rather assumed that Christmas cards and wrapping paper would be much like what we get in North America, only with a Czech flavor. I was looking forward to picking out a nice box or two of cards to send to my countless relatives and numerous friends, and to finding a suitable package of wrapping paper.
Well… there are cards, but Czechs obviously do not send as many, because the only boxed cards I have seen are some uninspiring UNESCO varieties (UNESCO often has nice cards, but these were not among its better efforts, and in any case I wanted Czech cards; I can buy UNESCO cards at home). The single cards available at Tesco and the Nový Smíchov Carrefour were very unappealing. The only other option I have run across has been really expensive, but decidedly nice, cards that come individually wrapped in plastic. Eventually I bought a few of these so that I could at least start doing my cards.
As for wrapping paper, I am a bit less particular since only my immediate family and I seem to reuse it. At home, I feel it is important to spruce up our supply of ancient wrap a bit now and then (it can’t be that many years ago that we finally finished off the last pieces of that mostly orange stuff that seemed so modern in 1971), but only the presents I mail home will ever add their wrap to the stash. Still, I like the presents I give to look at least a little as though I chose the paper for its design rather than for its size and lack of holes.
I did not expect that Czech wrapping paper in 2005 would be quite so lackluster. Plain red, green, gold, or silver would have been just fine with me, but I have not seen any. There are just rolls with uninteresting patterns in colors that are mostly not very suggestive of Christmas. (I think that the Czechs do not associate any special colors with Christmas, which is fine, but wintry, festive colors strike me as more suitable than spring or summer hues. After all, we are in the Northern Hemisphere, not Australia.)

After picking through quite a few bins at Tesco, I came up with some passable possibilities: an abstract red and green Christmas tree pattern, a subdued green and silver print with stars and wreaths and such, and a photographic print of colorful apples and baked goods. These will at least not look infantile or cutesy.
With luck, I might even get some of the presents wrapped and into the mail today before I catch the train to Žďár nad Sázavou, where Jesse and I are hoping to attempt some skiing, or if the weather is uncooperative, at least look at the UNESCO-site architecture.

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