Folk traditions from around country on show at Old Town Easter market

Easter market on the Old Town Square, photo: Ekaterina Stashevskaya

Prague is at present home to a number of Easter markets, with none bigger or more colourful than the one on the historic Old Town Square. As well as enjoying the live music, folk decorations and holiday atmosphere, visitors can purchase a number of traditional Czech Easter products.

Easter market on the Old Town Square, photo: Ekaterina Stashevskaya
Prague’s Old Town Square is currently home to a large, brightly decorated birch tree, a stage decked out in folk motifs and lots of stands offering refreshments and a range of products.

The latter include the traditional pomlázka, a braided switch that men use to gently “whip” women on Easter Monday, and of course pretty, hand-painted eggs.

At one stand, the young man selling eggs tells me his family have been in the seasonal business for a quarter of a century.

“The eggs with holes are our most popular item. They’re painted with wax or with Indian ink. The holes are made with a kind of dentist’s drill – that’s the hardest part. We sell around 100 or 120 a day. Tourists often ask why we’re selling eggs. When we explain, they like the idea – and they buy them.”

Hana Tietze is the spokeswoman for the company that organises the Easter market. She outlines what visitors can look forward to this year.

“Apart from the wonderful atmosphere of spring and Easter, and of course real Bohemian and Moravian folklore, the market naturally has an entertainment programme every day. That takes place not just on the stage, but also around the birch tree. It’s an interactive programme, so you can get involved directly. People in traditional folk costumes don’t just sing and dance – they also teach visitors. Everyone can come and try it for themselves.”

Old Town Square is thick with tourists pretty much all year long. So it is wholly unsurprising that a large percentage of visitors to the market are from abroad.

“Foreigners are enthusiastic, particularly regarding the decorations. They enjoy Czech food and of course they like the programme of events. They’re mainly here on holiday, so they really have a great time. They get involved in the interactive programmes and take selfies in our photo tents, where there are typical Bohemian and Moravian folk costumes. So they enjoy it the most.”

To get visitors’ own perspective, I spoke to two women, from the US and Australia, and a couple from County Durham in England.

US woman: “It’s beautiful. It’s great to see all the decorations. We’re also enjoying all the lovely food and drink.”

Australian woman: “It’s incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it before. The architecture, the colours, the people – it’s incredible.”

Durham man: “It looks particularly nice today, with it being such a sunny day. It’s lovely. Very colourful.”

Durham woman: “Yes, it’s got an absolutely lovely atmosphere.”

Durham man: “I’ve never seen anything like this before, not at Easter time.”

Durham woman: “We celebrate Easter, but not like this. It’s absolutely beautiful.”

Among the stalls on the market is one representing a Prague institute for the visually impaired. When I’m there it’s manned by two nice old ladies. One shows me their wares.

Hana Tietze, photo: Ian Willoughby
“We sell products made by our clients. They include, for instance, wreathes made from old newspapers and decorative gingerbread pieces. And eggs, of course. We also have pomlázky. Tourists usually like them but they don’t buy them much, as they’re a bit big to carry in a suitcase. So mostly they take pictures of them, thank us – and leave again!”

The Easter market has been a regular fixture on Old Town Square for some years. But the 2017 edition is one of the most colourful yet, according to organiser Hana Tietze.

“Compared to in previous years, the Old Town Square Easter market and the one on Wenceslas Square are far more decorated than they were in the past. The reason is we want to bring them up to the same standard as our Christmas markets, which have been commended by many international media outlets. This year we’ve drawn on folk motifs from the entire country. The motifs of plants and animals are in the traditional colours of blue, yellow and red. I could name the South Moravian region and Strážnice as inspirations. We’ve also taken other elements from little houses in Moravian Slovakia, traditional ornament painting in Podluží and Kyjov folk costumes. Really, the whole country.”