Written by Elizabeth A. Haas
The days leading up to Christmas are infused with joviality. Think carolers warbling from the Old Town´s center stage, mittened-hands curled around steaming cups of mulled wine, snow-capped spires and lighted squares, inviting restaurants—the kind of scenery that´ll melt even the iciest of Scrooge. With so much merriment to be had, where exactly does one begin? Here, a whole lotta good-old-fashioned Christmas fun for all ages. (Most of these events are annual in Prague—making them the perfect way to start up a few new holiday traditions in your adopted homeland).
Trim the tree. You´ll find Christmas trees (smrk or spruce; borovice or pine; jedle or fir) at most of Prague´s home-improvement giants, places like Bauhaus, Baumax, Hornbach, and OBI. These stores are further from the center but accessible by public transportation and usually have a nice selection. The massive malls on the city´s fringes (The Metropole in Zličín for example) stock trees as well. Nearer the center of Prague, tree vendors start springing up all over the city the first week of December, as well as at supermarkets like Tesco and Albert. You´ll pay 500-600 CZK for a 6-ft tree. Zahradnické centrum (Střešovická 47) is a favorite among expats for its English-speaking staff and free delivery. Fake firs will cost upwards of 1500-2000 CZK and are available at Tesco, Bauhaus, Baumax, etc.
Make homemade gifts. Spend less time Christmas shopping and more time getting in touch with your inner Martha Stewart at Muddum´s Crafty Christmas Workshops. The December 8 workshop focuses on Prints and Wraps; the December 15 workshop is devoted to Baubles and Candles. Workshops start at 3 pm at the Muddum Art Space (Kostelni 24, www.muddum.cz) and are conducted in English, Italian, and French. Hot tea and cakes are included in the price (250 CZK). Kids´ workshops are on Saturday.
Start a new tradition (or two!). The Prague Zoo (U Trojského zámku 3/120, www.zoopraha.cz) offers guided tours for reduced admission every Saturday and Sunday through January. The tours begin on December 18 and commence at 5:00 pm, 5:30, and 6:00 pm. A Christmas program is usually offered as well. These annual tours are quite popular during the holiday season—it´s advised that you book via phone (296 112 230, 296 112 233) or by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). From December 13 to December 28, at the nearby Botanic Gardens (Nádvorní 134, www.botanicka.cz), modern and traditional Christmas decorations (advent wreaths and such) are on display and an array of Christmas spices, teas, coffees, sweets, baked goods, and mulled wine are on sale. The exhibit is open daily from 9 am until 4 pm; the sale is open from Thursday to Sunday only.
Pay a visit to Santa. The fat fellow´s popularity has skyrocketed in the Czech Republic these past few years, much to the chagrin of stick-to-tradition Czechs across the city (there´s even an official anti-Santa faction out there that´s currently organizing a big December protest). But despite their efforts, Santa Claus is coming to Prague. Kids can visit with jolly old St. Nick at Santaland in OC Chodov through December 23, from 2 pm to 6 pm. This particular Santa Claus is quite the linguist, speaking Czech, English, German, and Russian. Photo packages start 250 CZK (discounts are available for Expats.cz members).
Stop at the Castle. Through January 6, Supreme Burgrave´s House (an ancient Gothic structure, opposite the Lobkowicz Palace and neighbouring the Black Tower, that was once believed to be haunted) at Prague Castle sets the stage for a glorious display of the sacred—betlémy, or hand-made nativity scenes. Once common to homes throughout Bohemia and Moravia these painted and hand-carved wonders (numbering upwards of 40) range from the modern to the historic. Not to be missed!
Christmas by the numbers
A day-by-day guide to holiday happenings:
2.12 Ceremony of Lights, 18:00.
The lighting of the Christmas tree in Old Town Square.
5. 12 St. Nicholas Day (Mikuláš), 18:00.
Horned creatures, angels, and St. Nick descend upon Old Town Square for this very Czech, very fun prelude to Christmas.
17.12-24.12 Christmas carp for sale
Enormous tubs of live carp are ready for sale all over Prague. (Carp clubbing is not for the squeamish!)
24.12-26.12 Christmas Eve and Christmas Holidays
Czech Christmas holidays fall on December 25 and 26, but start on the evening of December 24 (Christmas Eve).
24.12: Midnight Mass on Old Town Square
Midnight mass (půlnoční mše or simply půlnoční) is held in many churches in Prague ‘round about midnight. Part of any Czech Christmas is a performance of Hej mistře, vstaň bystře by the eminent Czech Baroque composer, Jakub Jan Ryba.
31.12 New Year´s Eve celebrations in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, 19.00-0.15.
Festivities are usually capped off by a fireworks display.
1.1 New Year´s Concert
18.00: Soloists of the National Theatre Opera and Prague State Opera will perform at the Prague State Opera.
Helpful Phrases: Holiday greetings
Merry Christmas – Veselé Vánoce!
Happy Holidays – Príjemné svátky!
Happy New Year – Štastný nový rok!