Magical Christmas in the Czech Republic The smell of mulled wine and Christmas sweets, the warmth of roasted chestnuts in your hands, the melody of carols, decorated streets, folk markets and Christmas trees on every square, that’s Christmas in the Czech Republic. Experience Christmas in the Czech Republic and let yourself be taken away by its festive, relaxed, and magical atmosphere. You certainly won’t regret it. First comes Nicholas For Czechs, Christmas celebrations begin already on the first Advent Sunday, i.e. four Sundays before Christmas Eve. This year, Advent starts on 28 November. At this time, Christmas trees are lit up on town squares, cities are covered in Christmas decoration and the craft markets open. Kids’ endless waiting for Christmas and presents comes to an end with the visit of Saint Nicholas. In the Czech Republic, Saint Nicholas comes on December 5 accompanied by a devil and an angel. St. Nicholas gives nice children little gifts, primarily sweets, while naughty children receive a potato or piece of coal from the devil. Our tip: The Christmas tree at Prague Castle (www.hrad.cz) will be lit on 28 November by Livia Klausová, the Czech President’s wife. She will pass out little gifts to the children present. Non-traditional gifts from traditional craft marketsYou can buy interesting, often very original gifts for your loved ones at traditional craft markets. Many old Czech crafts are usually being offered there. You will find various wood-carved sculptures, wooden kitchen utensils, straw Christmas ornaments and straw dolls, pottery, beeswax candles, original jewellery, and glass Christmas-tree decorations. You will certainly want to choose a little bell from one of the blacksmith’s stalls for the Infant Jesus to ring. The smith will make it on the spot right before your eyes. Should you become hungry while shopping, you will be able to taste several traditional delicacies. Those with a sweet tooth will savour the “trdelník” (sweet pastry made from rolled dough usually topped with sugar and walnut mix) or a brandy snap coated in cinnamon and sugar. Visitors preferring something savoury will find a rich offer of sausages and other pig-slaughter delicacies to choose from. Roasted chestnuts are also sure to please your taste buds. And finally, you will certainly be able to keep yourself warm with a cup of mead, mulled wine or punch. Our tip: The most beautiful Christmas markets in Prague are on Old Town Square and will be open from 27 November until 1 January next year. Smaller markets also can be found at Náměstí Míru (Peace Square) and Náměstí Republiky (Republic Square). A traditional Christmas fair is being prepared for the second and third weekends in November in the courtyard of the baroque Kuks chateau (http://www.ceska-apatyka.cz/). There will be a rich accompanying programme, too. Be sure not to miss the Old Czech Christmas markets in Český Krumlov (http://www.ckrumlov.info/docs/cz/atr176.xml), which take place every Advent weekend. Czech Republic – a country of nativity scenes Czech people have a special liking for nativity scenes, and thus you will find hundreds, possibly even thousands of them. On the squares, near the Christmas markets, you will find directly under the tree live nativity scenes created especially for children. There, young visitors will be able to pet a donkey, lamb or perhaps a goat. During the Christmas holidays, nativity scenes are of course displayed in every church. The Czech Republic, though, also has several museums that specifically focus on nativity scenes. Probably the most famous “Mecca” of nativity scenes is Třebechovice pod Orebem (http://www.betlem.cz/cs/). The collections of this museum include over 300 nativity scenes created from various materials, the most prized of which is Probošt’s mechanical nativity scene. It is created from more than 2,000 mechanical parts. The Museum of Paper Crèches in Zábrdí u Husince in Southern Bohemia is undoubtedly worth seeing (http://www.papirove-betlemy.cz/). There are around 800 paper crèches created all around the world. The biggest crèche measures almost 4 metres, while the smallest can fit in a matchbox. The museum is open all year round and admission is free. Our tip: Near Prague, you can visit the Nativity Museum in Karlštejn (http://www.betlemykarlstejn.cz/). Apart from mechanical crèches, you also will see such rarities as mangers made from sugar or bread. Czech Christmas music Christmas in the Czech Republic also means listening to Christmas and Advent melodies. This year, people will sing carols together on Pilsen’s main square on 15 December (www.plzen.eu). As with every year, it will be the largest mass carolling in the Czech Republic. Czech Christmas is inherently connected with the Czech Christmas Mass by Jakub Jan Ryba, Czech composer from the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. The Estates Theatre in Prague (http://www.narodni-divadlo.cz/) will present this work, also known as Hail, Master!, on 19 December. On 25 December, you will have the opportunity to listen to the Czech Christmas Mass played by the Prague Chamber Orchestra in the Church of St. Simon and St. Jude on Dušní Street in Prague (www.fok.cz). The Prague State Opera (www.opera.cz) also will be performing classical Czech Christmas pieces for its audiences. The Kühn Children’s Choir will sing songs from the works of Bohuslav Martinů, Vítězslav Novák, Zdeněk Lukáš, Petr Eben and Václav Trojan. Christmas in castles and chateauxYou can make your Christmas holiday more pleasant with a visit to some Czech castles or chateaus. Křivoklát castle, for example, is open to visitors the first two weekends in December and from December 26 through the end of the year (http://www.krivoklat.cz/). On December 18, you can experience Wallenstein-style Christmas at the Mnichovo Hradiště chateau (http://www.mnichovo-hradiste.cz/kulturni-prehled/), where you will be enchanted by the Baroque atmosphere. Special Christmas tours are prepared for interested parties from 26 to 31 December at the chateau in Horšovský Týn (http://www.horsovsky-tyn.cz/). From the first of December, visitors will also be able see the Museum of Nativity Scenes. You can enjoy the festive atmosphere at Loket Castle as well (http://www.hrad-loket.cz/). On 10 and 11 December, the castle’s courtyard will come to life with craft markets and visitors will have the opportunity to explore the exhibits. Our tip: Christmas tours are also held on the first three Advent weekends at the Hořovice Chateau (http://www.zamek-horovice.cz/). You will be welcomed by guides in costumes who will relate to you the history of Christmas, its traditions, and Advent. Mysterious Christmas customsChristmas, whether as a celebration of the solstice or the birth of Jesus Christ, typically was a time of contemplation on what the future has in store and is therefore connected with a number of customs by means of which our ancestors hoped to ensure a bright future. Many of these are still observed today. What awaits you in the next year is decided – according to old customs – by lead casting or apple cutting. If the shape of a star appears inside the apple after slicing it in half, you can expect sweet tomorrows. If you want to have more money next year, do not forget to put a carp’s scale under your Christmas dinner plate. The bravest among us may fast the whole day and perhaps see a golden piglet. If you wish to keep your family together, tie the legs of the table with a chain. If you want to get married, toss a shoe over your shoulder – if the toe is pointing away from you, your wish will be granted. Under no circumstances should you have poultry for the festive dinner, as luck would then desert you. Carp and the Infant Jesus The Christmas Eve menu and Christmas Day festivities receive great attention long in advance. Women bake Christmas sweets several weeks ahead. Lunch on Christmas Eve is usually simple, and some will even fast to see the golden piglet. In some Czech families, people have lentils for lunch as the tradition is it will improve their financial situation, while in others an Old Czech meal called “kuba” made of barely and mushrooms is served. After lunch people go to church to receive the eternal light and bring it home in little lanterns, and carols are often sung on the squares. The holiday dinner consists of South Bohemia-style fried carp with potato salad. In some households, fish soup is served before the main course. After the carp is finished, the Infant Jesus usually comes with gifts. He always announces his arrival by ringing a bell but then quickly disappears. Czech people thus open gifts in the evening on 24 December. Some families then go to church for midnight mass. The following festive days are marked by visits to relatives and friends. New Year’s Eve Entertainment After the Christmas holidays, which are often in a gastronomic spirit, follows New Year’s Eve. In the Czech Republic, there are many possibilities for celebrating the arrival of the New Year. You can celebrate, for example, in the mountains where you can go skiing or sledging to shed those recently acquired extra kilos. The most popular Czech mountains are certainly the Giant Mountains, the Bohemian Forest and the Jeseníky Mountains (www.ceskehory.cz). On New Year’s Eve, you will certainly not be bored in the city either. Many clubs, discos and hotels in Prague and elsewhere – such as Roxy (www.roxy.cz), Lucerna music bar (www.musicbar.cz) and the music club Lávka (www.lavka.cz), to name just a few – have special New Year’s Eve programmes prepared. Theatres also are open. On New Year’s Eve, the Estates Theatre in Prague (http://www.narodni-divadlo.cz/) presents the comedy entitled A Tea Party at the Senator’s, while the Jiří Miron Theatre in Ostrava (http://www.ndm.cz) has prepared for its audiences a performance entitled “New Year’s Eve with Operetta and Musical”. The Brno City Theatre (http://www.mdb.cz/) shall please its devotees with the comedy Eine gute Partie (“A Good Party”). Our tip: You can celebrate New Year’s Eve directly on city squares. In Prague, these celebrations usually take place on Wenceslas Square. Festivities in the Czech Republic don’t end with Christmas and New Year’s Eve, however, and you can receive your regular dose of information about what’s happening in the Czech Republic and where to go at www.kudyznudy.cz/en.