Hundreds of token gifts are being prepared for the country’s upcoming EU presidency. What does Baby Jesus look like? Leading Czech artists have had a go at painting him. And, a gorilla wins a dieting contest. Find out more in Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.

As the date of the Czech EU presidency approaches, the office for EU affairs is preparing special gift packages for participants in the events scheduled to take place. Among the gifts to be distributed are lace brooches, silver cufflinks with Bohemian garnets and crystal glass bowls. European commissioners are to receive sets of hand made crystal glasses, silk ties and commemorative coins. The Czech Postal Service has issued more than one million commemorative postage stamps bearing the EU presidency logo and a special envelope bearing the motto of the Czech presidency “Europe without Barriers”. The Czech Republic has also launched its presidency website which you can check out at

Cardinal Miloslav Vlk received a somewhat unusual gift ahead of the Christmas holidays – a military bible bound in camouflage patterned cloth. The gift was from the chief of the army staff Vlastimil Picek who visited the Cardinal to inform him about the work of Catholic priests in the army. Czech soldiers –especially soldiers serving on foreign missions - had some time ago asked to get Bibles and the military commissioned two kinds – a regular size and a pocket-size New Testament that soldiers can carry with them at all times. Due to the cloth binding each of them is in a way unique.

Forget about Santa coming down the chimney – in the Czech Republic it is Baby Jesus who brings the presents on Christmas Eve. However unlike Santa whom you can see in most supermarkets and Christmas ads Baby Jesus is a mysterious figure whom no one has yet glimpsed. Czech children hear the tinkle of a bell and by the time they get to the tree from the dinner table – the presents are there and Baby Jesus has gone. Consequently, every Czech grows up with his or her own idea of what Baby Jesus looks like. Now some of the country’s leading artists have put their ideas on paper – painting Baby Jesus as they imagined him as children and their works are now on show at a special Christmas exhibition organized by the Prague municipal gallery. Those who can’t make it can buy a book of the mentioned art collection due to come out sometime next year. A blessing for parents who are endlessly asked by their kids what exactly a baby Jesus looks like and how come someone so small can distribute so many gifts in the course of one evening. The pictures may serve as an inspiration. However, all said and done, the best Baby Jesus will always be the one that we ourselves painted in our minds.

Photo: CTK
For some reason Czechs love setting new records and the Christmas season provides fresh opportunities to excel at something or other. This year 268 towns and cities let loose over 100,000 balloons each carrying a Christmas greetings to Baby Jesus and letting him know their most secret wish. Czech chefs prepared a five-metre-long vánočka – a sweet Christmas pastry which was consumed as soon as the record was entered in the Czech Book of Records and Czech woodcarvers made an outsize letterbox – 2 meters and 22 centimeters in height which was made out of a single piece of wood. The letterbox will be set up in the mountain town of Boží Dar – meaning God’s gift – a place that annually stamps thousands and thousands of Christmas greetings with a special Christmas stamp and where Czech children send letters to Babz Jesus or Ježísek telling him what they’d most like to get for Christmas. And last but not least – a tradition that was launched eleven years ago – every Christmas people in a dozen towns and cities in the Plzen region of west Bohemia raise their voices in song together at a precisely given time to create a huge choir. This year 10, 253 people assembled on their town square to sing two of the most popular Czech Christmas carols – Nesem Vám Noviny – We bring you glad tidings and Narodil se Kristus Pán – Jesus Christ is born. The organizers hope that gradually more and more people across the country will join in this tradition to create the biggest Christmas choir ever.

The time of New Year’s resolutions is just around the corner and if you are thinking of dieting I have some fresh motivation for you – would you let a gorilla beat you to it? You may remember that some time ago I told you about Gorilla Shinda at the Prague Zoo who needed to lose weight so that she could conceive more easily. At 106 kilos the female gorilla was definitely overweight but - on closer scrutiny – so was her young keeper who coincidentally weighed exactly the same, only his problem was a beer belly. Shinda’s fans on the web and other keepers in the zoo forced a bet – if Shinda can do it, why not her keeper Marek Ždánský. He good-naturedly agreed and the deal was that if Shinda won she would get a liter of her favourite 100percent fruit juice which was a diet no-no. Her keeper Marek was to treat his colleagues to a crate of champagne if he lost– or get one himself – right on time to see the New Year in with a bang. Two months have gone by and Marek is paying for the champagne. Although he weighs 97, 4 kilos, Shinda weighs only 96. She’s already downed the litre of fuit juice, but the big pay-off for both Shinda and her keeper will hopefully come next year –in the shape of a baby gorilla.