During the afternoon of December 5, the streets and squares of the Czech Republic are filled with unusual characters: demons, angels and saints with top hats. December 5 is the eve of St. Nicholas Day and symbolizes a special celebration for Czech children during the festive month of December.
St. Nicholas was a third-century Christian bishop born in the Greek city of Mira, now Turkey. Christian hagiography has added many legends to his biography over the centuries. According to one of the bloodiest, a butcher killed three children, cut them into small pieces and put them in a barrel to sell them as ham when Nicolás passed through the city. Realizing this horrible act, Nicholas resurrected the children. This is perhaps one of the main reasons why in the Czech Republic and other Central European countries, as well as in Belgium and the Netherlands, the Saint Nicholas festival is related to children.
In the Czech tradition, St. Nicholas walks the streets and sometimes knocks on the doors, accompanied by an angel and a demon, and asks the parents if their children behaved well or badly that year. If they were good, the angel congratulates the children and offers them sweets. Children who misbehave receive a symbolic scolding from the devil.
The festival is considered a family activity, in which many young people dress up as one of the three characters and stroll through the streets to entertain or scare children very lightly. The holiday is so popular that it was even celebrated in Czechoslovakia during the communist era, when public religious celebrations were prohibited since they were considered to have pagan roots. Today, local municipalities organize it, but improvised “unofficial” trios walk the streets and keep the tradition alive.
Here are some photos taken during the afternoon of December 5, 2019 in Prague, where you can see the different ways in which the Czechs celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas.