|Christmas in the Czech
Republic begins with Svatej Nikulas Day, on December 6 and ends with
the visit of the Tri Kralu (Three Kings) on January 6. On December
6, Saint Nicholas descends from the sky on a golden cord, accompanied
by an angel dressed in white with gifts for the good boys and girls,
and a devil named Cert dressed in black, carrying a whip and rattling
a chain. As soon as the children hear them coming, they rush to the
table and say their prayers. Those who know their prayers are rewarded
with a gift; those who do not may feel Cert's whip!
A twenty-four hour period of strict fast concludes on Christmas
Eve when the first star of the night is seen. This star represents
the star of Bethlehem. The children are promised that if they fast
faithfully they will see golden pigs at supper time. At the beginning
of supper, the candles are lit and the pigs appear on the wall and
ceiling. The flickering of the candle flames perform the trick,
because at the center of the table is the young roasted pig. The
supper consists of seven courses and what is left over (there are
always leftovers) is fed to the pigs. An extra place is set at the
table and left empty for the Christ-child.
The manger scene is ever present in both church and home. These
nativity scenes are called Bethlehems, and setting them up is a
great family pastime. Usually they are complete villages carved
from wood or fashioned from bread dough and then elaborately painted.
Carolers carry miniature Bethlehem scenes as they go from house
to house giving concerts. After singing, they are invited into the
home for a glass of wine and a piece of vanocka, a sweetbread.
The National Czech and Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa has
graciously decorated the Czech tree that is on display here.