The 7th of November - the story of a forgotten holiday

November 7th had a very special place in the calendar of communist Czechoslovakia. Preparations started well in advance to mark the Soviet National Holiday, which was the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, and celebrations would go on for another thirty days, known as "The Month of Czechoslovak-Soviet Friendship". The young generation of Czechs are completely oblivious of the holiday but some older Czechs have fond memories of the 7th of November because unlike other communist era holidays, it was actually often fun.

Photo: CTK
The official title of the Bolshevik coup in Russia was the "Great October Socialist Revolution". The popular joke went that it was neither great, nor socialist, it was not actually a real revolution, nor did it take place in October.

In communist Czechoslovakia, for many days ahead of the holiday, all schoolchildren drew pictures of the Aurora cruiser from which a blank shot signalled the start of the attack on the Winter Palace, and listened to stories about the revolution and its protagonist Lenin.

That's all history now, and for Czechs younger than 25, the date signifies nothing. But ask anyone over that age and they may even recite poetry to you. A lady we approached outside the Czech Radio building recited the complete poem called "November 7th in Moscow" by the Russian children's author Samuel Marshak, which Czech children had to learn by heart in the 1950s and many people still remember it half a century on.

But the best part of November 7th celebrations were the so-called "lantern marches". Although they were compulsory, children loved them. They gathered in front of schools in the evening, everyone carrying a paper lantern on a stick, and marched through the neighbourhood. Of course, there was a lot of competition between the children as to whose lantern is the prettiest and you were considered cool if your dad had fixed your lantern with a little bulb and a battery rather than an ordinary candle. As you can imagine, there was also a lot of mischief going on and many lanterns ended up in flames and the little kids in tears.

The last lantern marches in the country took place on November 7, 1989. Only ten days later another march of young people started the Velvet Revolution, leading to the collapse of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.