Sitting on the floor of the hallway on December 5th in my freshman dorm, crafting away for St. Mikulas Day. Students walk by with stares of confusion wondering what is this strange, weird holiday that involves boots, an angel, a devil and a man that looks like an off-brand Santa Claus? Finally a girl on my floor stops and asks what I’m doing.
“Decorating my door for St. Mikulas Day,” I said as she stares at me with confusion. “St.Mikulas Day is a holiday celebrated throughout Europe. Since I lived in the Czech Republic, I used to celebrate it.” Still confused, I decide I’m going to have to start from the beginning…
In the Czech Republic, St. Mikulas Day is celebrated on the eve of December 6th and marks the start of the Christmas season for the Czech people.
Snow kisses your face as it falls and the cobble stone streets sparkle. Medieval buildings surround you as you walk down the alleyway that opens up to Old Town Square in Prague. Red roofed stalls are scattered throughout the square. The Christmas tree stands tall and shining, bright amongst the crowds of people. The gothic skyline is dimmed and the night is young. Magic is in the air.
Amongst the children’s laughter and smiles, three figures catch your eye. St. Mikulas, wearing a red robe, has a long white beard and dons a tall, pointy red hat. The angel glides alongside him dressed in a long white flowing dress. The last is the devil, disguised in dark clothing, mischievously prancing with them. Children flood the square, grinning with excitement to partake in the evening festivities.
There are a few rules, I might add. When the trio approaches you, St. Mikulas asks with a glimmer in his eye if you’ve been naughty or nice. Children reply yes and recite their favorite poem or short folk song.
If St. Mikulas sees you’ve been good, the angel happily hands you something sweet, a piece of candy typically. If you’ve been naughty, the devil wickedly presents you with a lump of coal. If you’ve been really naughty, the devil may stuff you in his sack and take you with him (Just kidding!).
While you stroll through the streets and watch the children laugh and cheer, red holiday stalls are set up around the square selling handcrafted gifts. Wooden ornaments, ceramics, handmade glass objects and items crafted of Czech Crystal fill the holiday stalls. While the children run off and play in the town square, the parents get some of their Christmas shopping done.
Hot chocolate, coffee and hot wine is for sale at some the stalls. St. Mikulas Day wouldn’t be right without a Trdelnik. Their sweet smell fills the air as the dough wraps around a metal spindle called a trdlo, then cooked until golden over hot coals. When they’re done, they’re smothered in cinnamon sugar.
The tradition continues once you go home. The story is that children must clean their boots and place them outside their front door for St. Mikulas and his helpers to pay a visit to your house. If you’ve been good, you’ll wake up the next morning to find your boot is full of candy. If it’s full of coal, St. Mikulas put you on his naughty list, so you better watch out and hope he doesn’t find out about your 21st birthday festivities.
Perhaps one of the best Czech traditions, St. Mikulas Day is magical. Nothing brings in the holiday season like children laughing and good tidings with smiles.
After telling the girl on my dorm floor the story, she expressed her enthusiasm for the holiday and asked, “Can I help with anything?”
“Well actually, I bought little stocking I’m going to fill with candy for the floor. Want to help with that?” She accepted her task and I kept preparing for the holiday.
That night I placed the stockings by each door, but the next morning, I noticed no one found their stockings. The mischievous devil must have come around and stolen them.