Easter festivities on the Old Town Square
Among the Prague sights that tourists love most is the Old Town Square. At Easter it is especially colorful - resounding with Easter music, crowded with stalls and the site of numerous contests. Strong-man, egg-throwing and pancake contests, among others. You too can get a taste of what's going on in this week's Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.
Welcome to Magazine and happy Easter! What you hear there is live music from Prague's Old Town Square -a piece by Czech baroque composer Vaclav Michna performed by a childrens' choir. The Old Town Square is especially colorful at this time of year - alive with traditional Easter songs and crowded with Easter stalls selling hand painted eggs - pigeon to ostrich size, crocheted eggs, glass eggs and, of course, chocolate eggs. A lot of traditional Czech items are on sale: hand carved toys, hand made crystal glass and fine embroidery, dolls in regional costume and hot Karlovy Vary waffers. The organizers of the annual Easter festivities aim to bring a little of the old Easter traditions to town - to amuse the tourists and make a huge profit. Individual arts and crafts are shown "in the making" and tourists are invited to paint an egg under the supervision of a "professional", or make a bees-wax candle to take home, while they are entertained by a childrens' choir.
Although most of the people I know merely buy food coloring and paint a bowl of eggs in bright yellow, red and green hues, in many parts of the country the tradition of egg-decorating is handed down from generation to generation and requires skill, patience and precision. A vast number of technologies are used and the resulting color scheme and patterns on an egg reveal where it was made. Of course, now that these eggs have become a successful sales commodity -new ideas appear on the market every year. This year it is eggs bearing intricate patterns created by a dentist's drilling machine. Creating such an egg takes hours and every tenth egg, on average, breaks under the strain of so much art. The price of an Easter may thus range from 30 to 250 crowns. And the artists who produce them know in advance what people will ask for.
"Every nation has it own taste when buying these eggs. For instance the Germans go for the colorful ones, the Italians love the flamboyant gold ones that you see here, and the Japanese generally chose the ones with scenery. We do lots with pictures of a small village dominated by a church, that is so typical of the Czech countryside. We also sell willow whips -which is part of the Czech Easter ritual of a boy whipping a girl on Easter Monday and getting an egg from her in return. You have no idea how many times a day we explain this to tourists. Some think it is a huge joke and buy the whip to take home as a souvenir. Many say they want to chose an Easter egg for their girlfriend and boyfriend as a special treat since traditionally they just buy chocolate eggs. And sometimes they buy these old wooden music instruments which they hear children playing on here."
Anyone who has been to the Old Town Square at this time of year knows that it is not the goods which are the biggest attraction but the competitions which attract crowds of onlookers. Usually, these are beer-drinking, egg eating and strong man contests. This year there were more disciplines to compete in - a pancake contest in which you had to toss a pancake over a pole and catch it back in the pan on the other side. A lot of pancakes landed in the crowd - and it was a visiting English tourist who managed ten throws and catches in a row. The record - which he failed to break was 150 catches - but he seemed very happy with his performance and even happier to be on radio.
The tourists love a challenge and a group of Italians could not resist the egg throwing competition. A carton of 35 eggs was to be moved by air - thrown one by one across eight meters from one player to another whose task it was to catch them unbroken and place them in the empty carton next to him. The record was 58 seconds and no egg lost. Well, the group of young Italians gave it their best shot - they didn't break the record but they had a lot of fun trying -and a lot of egg all over them....
Well, I managed to keep clear of the eggs - but not everyone did and what you couldn't see was that the guy who was supposed to be catching lost his cool after getting a few hits and started pelting the other player back with the eggs he'd managed to catch safely. In short it turned into a free for all - but in spite of the mess everyone was happy and the organizers were generous with the prizes simply for the good show they'd put on. So that too is Easter here in Prague...
The Pelhrimov Museum of Curiosities and Records brought some of its Easter-related items to show off and they attracted quite a lot of attention.
"The biggest willow whip that you see here is 6 meters long and it took six hours to make. The smallest willow whip is 18 millimeters long -and paradoxically it took even longer to make under a strong magnifying glass. It is so small that we fear it will disappear or get blown away when the children hand it around to admire. We also have a willow whip from Slovakia which is an incredible 31 meters long and would reach the ground if you hung it from the balcony of a ten-floor building. That is in our keeping from the days of the Czechoslovak federation and we are very glad to have it. The biggest egg we have is two metres in height -it's made of polystyrene and decorated with traditional Moravian motifs. It took two people an entire week to paint. The edible records that were created in our town always got eaten I'm afraid -no matter how big they were. But people keep trying -Pelhrimov is know as a town of many records among Czechs."
Well, I can't offer you a taste of anything over the air but if you are not too lazy to make something Czech in your own home - here's the recipe for the traditional Czech mazanec, a sweet pastry:
120 grams butter
100 grams sugar
5 egg yolks
2 dl milk
Pour a little lukewarm milk into a bowl, stir in a spoonful or two of sugar and add the yeast. Leave in a warm place for 10 minutes or until it is frothy, which shows that the yeast is activated.
Mix the butter, sugar and egg yolks, stir in the vanilla sugar, lemon peel, sultanas, almonds and a few spoonfuls of rum. Add the flour, yeast and the remaining lukewarm milk and a pinch of salt and knead it into a soft dough.
Leave the dough to rise until it doubles in size. Turn it onto a floured board and make a round pastry loaf, after kneading it a few more minutes. Use a little of the dough to form a cross or star on the top. Brush the loaf with egg and sprinkle with almonds. Bake in a hot oven until it is a rich golden brown.
So good luck with it and happy Easter!
More about Czech Easter