December 5 – Saint Mikuláš Eve

St. Mikuláš and a pair of his angelic sidekicks.
St. Mikuláš and a pair of his angelic sidekicks.

Santa Claus – Old School Style

If you find yourself anywhere in the Czech Republic on the evening of December 5, you most certainly will also find yourself in the midst of the St. Mikuláš tradition. St. Mikuláš being the Czech name for St. Nicholas, the historical inspiration for the more contemporary Santa Claus.

The Czech tradition sees St. Mikuláš walking about the streets accompanied by an angel and a devil. As the tradition is geared towards children, the trio ask children about their behaviour over the year. By tradition, if the children have been good, they will get sweets of some sort; on the other hand, if they’ve been bad they will get a piece of coal or an old potato.

Generally, it is St. Mikuláš who asks the children if they’ve been good while the angel protects the children from the devil. The devil typically has chains on him and carries a sack in which, according to legend, he transports bad children to Hell.

In larger centres with Christmas markets, it’s perfectly normal to see the majority of the market going crowd sporting a pair of devil horns, typically illuminated, on their heads.

St. Mikuláš is not observed as a national holiday in the Czech Republic, but it is an important part of Czech Christmas traditions.

St. Nicholas in the wider picture

The Czech Republic is not unique in honouring St. Nicholas, indeed several countries observe traditions connected with this particular saint.

This website is a great resource about St. Nicholas in general and the variations on the theme which are observed around the world:

http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/

A devilish pair seen at the Brno Christmas market.
A devilish pair seen at the Brno Christmas market.

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