Jezisek vs. Santa Claus

Christmas in the Czech Republic is all about Christmas Eve. On December 24th a huge dinner is prepared, the Christmas tree is decorated and lit and presents are opened. But who puts the gifts under the tree? Santa Claus or Jezisek? Radio Prague's Nicole Klement investigated.

The Christmas tradition here in the Czech Republic differs slightly from that in many western countries. For most Czechs Christmas dinner consists of potato salad, carp and fish soup and is served on Christmas Eve. Presents are also given on the 24th.

But which mysterious figure brings young children their presents? In many western countries it's St. Nicholas or Santa Claus. For Czechs it's Jezisek, or Baby Jesus.

But capitalism has brought Santa to the Czech Republic and some Czechs resent that fact. I spoke to Czech Senator Jaroslava Moserova who recently wrote a commentary in a Czech daily regarding the plight of the Jezisek tradition.

"Small children are not allowed in the room where the Christmas tree is being decorated. So, the parents decorate the Christmas tree, prepare all the presents and light the candles. The children are told that during the evening when no one is watching, the little baby Jesus, Jezisek, comes and brings the presents and the children don't really have any real idea about what Jezisek looks like. Then the grown ups ring a bell, slip out of the room, the children enter and there it is- in the darkness the tree is all lit up and the Christmas presents are under the tree."

But on December 5th Czechs have Mikulas or St. Nicholas who gives out presents, then Jezisek on December 24th? Which is it - Mikulas or Jezisek? Apparently both but not Santa Claus ...

"Mikulas comes, in his bishop's hat and full bishop's garb, accompanied maybe by the devil and an angel and brings small presents in the first week of December. The Jezisek comes late at night on Christmas Eve. I'm not prejudiced against Santa Claus as long as he stays in the States or in countries where he is traditional. But Santa Claus is not suppose to come here."

So why is Santa so disliked?

"Jezisek has always brought presents on Christmas Eve in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. During the communist era when religion was banned, or nearly banned, and you couldn't send any Christmas cards with the Madonna and child or sing Christmas carols with Baby Jesus the communist authorities tried to force onto us Grandfather Frost. I don't know whether you have ever heard of him or you know what he looks like. He looks exactly like Santa Claus, so we took a dislike toward the funny person in the red clothes because he was something that the Soviets tried to force onto us."

So is Santa out of a job?

"I want to make it clear that I like Santa Claus in the States and in the countries where he always comes, that's fine. And, I like the Christmas decorations of the cities- that's fine too. But, we just have a different tradition and we want to protect it."

Author: Nicole Klement
run audio