Czech children (and adults) eagerly await Mikuláš

Photo: CTK

Wednesday evening - Mikuláš – the eve before Saint Nicholas’ Day – is being eagerly awaited by children around the country. Each year on December 5, Saint Nicholas accompanied by an angel and a devil, visits Czech families to see if the children have been good. Kids who were well-behaved receive sweets, chocolate, fruit or a present, while those who were naughty (at least in theory) receive a potato or a lump of coal.

Photo: CTK
The Eve of Saint Mikuláš is without a doubt a special evening for Czech families with smaller children preparing for the arrival of St Nicholas and his two sidekicks the angel and the devil. The last, rattling his chains and threatening to drag off children who were naughty, is the least welcome of course, but things always turn out well in the end. The tradition, even after all these years remains popular, with students and even adults dressing as the trio and visiting town squares, family restaurants or people’s homes, for a small fee. Before receiving their gifts, kids recite a poem or a sing a song for the saint and the angel, who in turn keep the dreaded čert (or devil) at bay.

Dagmar Janoušková, who has a six-year-old son, reminds listeners that Mikuláš takes some planning; last year she and her son missed out.

Photo: archive of ČRo 7 - Radio Prague
“Last year colleagues from work went around in the costumes but they did it when we weren’t home. I considered contacting someone else, but I didn’t see any ads around. Even then, I’m not sure, without references, I would invite strangers in.”

Besides students putting on a show for kids, more and more children themselves have taken to dressing up as the saint, the angel and the devil. In Prague, that usually means going to the Old Town Square where a competition to choose the best costumes is held. While it takes a little getting used to seeing little devils and angels running around, it is still in the spirit of the day, says Michaela Štepánová who heads Agentura Karneval, renting traditional costumes – including Mikuláš – year round.

“They take part in the contest to see who will be the nicest Mikuláš, angel and devil and have a chance to win prizes. There is no age limit and that is why many of them take part.”

Increasingly, Mikuláš has also become a big day for Czech companies, who see it as an opportunity for a bit of office fun. Agentura Karneval’s Michaela Štepánová again:

Photo: CTK
“Many of the costumes we rent are not intended for children at all, they are for adults in adult settings. I’m not referring to ‘sexy’ costumes offered by a lot of rental shops, either. Our customers want the traditional costumes for good fun. Sometimes the most unlikely candidate plays the angel. Usually it is the guys from the office with most comedic talent who come to pick out the costumes and we enjoy working with those clients a lot.”

Festivities traditionally kick off around Prague in the afternoon or late afternoon: expect to see many St. Nicks, angels, and devils wandering around the city at dusk.