The Czech Santa makes an appearance in two ways: as Svatý Mikuláš, or St. Nicholas, and Ježíšek, or Baby Jesus. Take a look at the ways in which Czech Christmas traditions involving Santa Claus differ from those in the far west.
Svatý Mikuláš, the Czech St. Nick, is usually dressed in the white robes of bishop and wears a majestic white beard. Accompanied by an angel (who has lowered St.
Nicholas to Earth from the heavens in a basket borne aloft by a golden rope) and a devil, Svatý Mikuláš brings gifts to children on the Eve of St. Nicholas, which is observed on December 5. The angel is the good children's representative; the devil the bad children's representative. Children experience both the pleasure of receiving gifts and the thrill of a friendly scare.
If you're visiting Prague or another city in the Czech Republic on this day, you may see St. Nicholas and his companions on their way to bestow gifts upon children. The angel, complete with wings and a halo, usually passes out candy, while the devil, who carries a pitchfork or clanking chains, serves as a reminder that bad children may be carried off to Hell--all in good fun, of course. Sometimes children are asked about their behavior in the previous year, or as in the past, they may recite a poem or sing a short song in return for candy and other treats.
This cool Santa and his helpers may accept a drink from parents once his duties are through, particularly in Prague's Old Town, which is one of the favorite locations for celebrating the evening of December 5th with the three Christmas characters. Look for the St. Nick and his helpers at Christmas markets in the Czech Republic.
Children may also receive small gifts from family members for this day. As in other parts of the world, a stocking may be hung and filled with candy, small toys, or other presents. In the past, these treats consisted of nuts and oranges, but parents have since updated their offerings to reflect today's sensibilities. Of course, the threat of receiving coal is a good reminder for children to be on their best behavior on this day.
Czech children receive more gifts from Ježíšek, or Baby Jesus, on Christmas Eve. This tradition has been a part of Czech culture for 400 years. Parents help to create a day full of magic by banishing children from the room in which the Christmas tree resides. They decorate the tree, place the gifts under it, and ring a bell. The bell signals to the children that Baby Jesus has visited their house with a beautiful tree and fun presents.
Like Santa Claus, Baby Jesus has a residence that children can post letters to. But unlike the Western Santa, Baby Jesus does not live at the North Pole. Instead, he lives in the mountains, in the town of Boží Dar. The Czech Republic has placed its own spin on Santa Claus which can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.
In fact, though attempts at popularizing the Western Santa have spread awareness about the jolly old man in the red velvet suit, the Czechs hold proudly to the tradition of Baby Jesus.