Friday, January 04, 2008

Christmas Eve in Prague

Already dark, our first destination was the Old Town Square. Red light emanated from the tall Christmas tree dominating the Eastern side. In front of the tree was a life-size Nativity scene carved from wood. Once a site for public executions of 27 Protestants in 1621 after losing the Battle of the White Mountain, the historical square was now filled with a sense of festivity. Vendors in the red-roofed stands sold crafts, local hot dogs/sausages, grilled meats, roasted chestnuts, and hot drinks.

Right around the corner was the Old Town Tower, whose unusual clock is the most famous in Prague. Within the series of circles, one will find a calendar, astronomical clock, and representation of daylight hours. On each side of the astronomical and calendar clocks are two wooden figures, each representing something (such as Greed or Vanity). On the hour, Death (a rather cute looking skeleton) pulls a rope and the angel appears to pull it at the other end. Near the top, two window open up and the 11 Apostles + St. Paul slowly move around. At the end of the show, sound coming from a window above the Apostles reveals a cock. You could always tell when the hour was about to happen, as large amounts of people began amassing in front of the 15th century clock.

We then headed towards Prague Castle, crossing the famous Charles Bridge. Built in 1357, the bridge was the only crossing over the Vltava River from the Old Town to the Little Quarter until the 1700’s. Now crowded with pedestrians, it used to carry 4 carriages side-by-side. Lining the entire span of the bridge are a multitude of sculptures of saints, added at various times about 400 years after the bridge’s completion. Quite a number of the sculptures (actually copies, as the originals are in the National Museum) were very dark, making it difficult to photograph with natural light. A few brave souls set up tripods to take photos of the bridge and the Prague Castle region, illuminated at night.

After a brief walk around the Little Quarter Square, my fingers were so cold that I was feeling very clumsy using the camera – was I pressing the shutter release or not? Noticing that the St. Nicholas Church was still closed due to filming, we decided to find a restaurant to eat – and to warm up. We chose a cozy, well-establish restaurant, where I ordered a meal of pork au gratin with bacon and mushroom sauce. For desert, we split a dish of sweet dumplings with yogurt sauce and drizzled chocolate. Good, but not something I would need to try again. Beer lovers would be happy in Prague, as a glass was about half the price of coke or tea.

Temporarily warmed up, we headed back to the Old Town Square. Crowds were noticeably thinner. At the stage next to the tall Christmas tree, a group was performing Renaissance-style Christmas music. I was quick to point out to Olja when they played the rauspheife instrument, as that is the Renaissance instrument that I also play. Although we enjoyed the concert, I pitied the performers whose fingers were likely very cold. Once finished, we took the efficient metro back to the hotel.

Christmas Traditions in Prague
With its Protestant/Catholic roots, Christmas is still an important celebration for Prague residents. On Christmas Eve and Day, everything is closed for this national holiday. Even during Socialism, no one worked. On these days, it is customary to visit the cemetery. Taking your dog out for a walk was the main thing you saw residents do. I couldn't get over how many small/toy dogs residents had!

The house would be thoroughly cleaned in preparation for the festivities. Fried carp, a delicacy, was prepared along with soup and special cakes. According to our local guide, Christmas now is less focused on remembering Christ’s birth and more about commercialism and eating. Even the pets get presents!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Prague is affectionately known as the Pearl of Europe for it's beauty.I like Christmas in Prague. And I prefer to come to Prague for Christmas and stay not in Prague hotels, but with Czech friends. I like to see Czech traditions. I noticed that the Christmas tree is decorated in the afternoon, and in the evening, whole families get together to enjoy the Christmas meal. The meal traditionally involves carp, that unfortunate fish you see being butchered by men in overalls on street corners.