Posted by: LM | May 4, 2008

Angels and Demons

I suppose when really examined, all cultures have their odd traditions that outsiders raise an eyebrow at. The fact that we sit children on a giant rabbit’s lap every Spring is pretty strange, I’ll admit. Still, it seems to me that Czech holidays are bizarre even by normal “weird tradition” standards. I mean really bizarre. I’ll elaborate. I was walking home one night from work and as I stood outside waiting for the number 22 tram to come my way I came face to face with a man dressed in what I assessed to be Papal garb. This confused me. I was confounded further when I took into view the other oddly-dressed characters on either side of him. Two grown men stood next to this foe clergymen: one dressed as an angel (halo, white robe, wings… the whole get-up) and the other dressed as a devil (complete with face paint, horns and a pitch fork). At first I thought these strange men were in a class of their own. My ride home proved this to be false. I had given the Czech people the benefit of the doubt, assuming that they found these dudes just as nuts as I did. I was mistaken. To them, it was just another St. Nicolas Day.

Every December 5th the Czechs have a tradition that I can only describe as an odd blend of Christmas and Halloween. Adults dress in the manner mentioned above and parade around the city asking small children if they’ve been good for the past 12 months. If the children answer yes, they get a pat on the head and a sweet from the angel. If they’re honest little boogers and says they’ve been bad… they get a one-way ticket to hell. No, I’m not kidding. I mean of course they don’t really GO to hell. The dude dresses as a devil carries a bag with him. Apparently if the kids are bad, he throws them into his bag and carts them off to meet with satan himself. Again, let me assure you that I am NOT kidding. haha.

I kicked myself over and over again my entire ride home for not having my camera with me. The city was overrun by these crazies. When I got into my classroom the next morning, I immediately asked my students what on earth had been in the water the night before to make all the weirdos come out to play? They excitedly told me all about “Mikuláš, anděl a čert” (Nicholas, the angel & the devil). The “pope” I’d seen wasn’t a Pope at all, but a Bishop (shows how much I know about Catholic clergy, huh?). He’s the same guy we talk about as being Santa. Saint Nick? Yup, that’s him. They went on to tell me about the candy and the sack and the going to hell story. I was a complete 50-50 blend of tickled and horrified. In the end, tickled won out. It’s just another one of those things that makes Prague and the Czech people so wonderfully insane. 🙂

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