Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Mikulaš eve, Celebrating St. Nicholas in Prague

December 5th, 7 pm - angels and devils and St. Nicks roam the streets, or actually, make a beeline to the biggest Christmas street fair in our neighborhood. The devils out number the angels and the Nicks by much, maybe because it is more fun to be the guy carrying a bag full of coal than the angel with her basket of candy or St. Nicolas (Mikulaš here) with his hockey stick. We head for the park with Caroline but when we get there, we stop, realizing that we are Mikulaš greenhorns when it comes to kids. All we've ever done before is check out the costumes and eat the tinfoil-wrapped Santas that appear in every store. Now that Caroline is old enough to join in, what exactly is it that she is supposed to do?

We squeeze through the crowds, trying to decipher the process: little kids meet big kids dressed in costume and say a poem or sing a song, then the big kid gives the little kid a piece of candy. Simple, but how to meet the costumes? We blame our coats and foreign looks and sheepishly trail along the outskirts of the park until we find a bench to perch on and reconnoiter.

Caroline is excited, despite her parents‘ shyness. "Mikulaš!" she yells, throwing her arms wide, as she watches kids earn candy by the score. She has already gone out once earlier, with Lucie and Marie, and she apparently knows the routine, but clearly we don’t. So I call our babysitter and ask what we’re doing wrong. "Do we say something special to get them started? Like 'dobry vecer andel?' And do we tip?" Thankfully Lucie is so amused by the idea of me saying 'good evening angel' that she misses my last comment (I’m still blushing).

"Sure," she says, "just say 'hi angel, hi čert' and they will talk to Caroline." Just knowing it is as simple as that, I stop feeling like I’m on an alien planet and start relaxing and within five minutes of us rejoining the crowds, the trios are swooping down on Caroline to rattle their bags, stick out their tongues and ask if she has been a good girl this year.

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