Written by Shirley Kowalenko
for IWAP Magazine
Many people travel elsewhere during the holidays, either to visit family or some other interesting destination. But for those who decide to stay in town, Prague is a magical place during the holiday season and there are a variety of activities for everyone in and around Prague as well.
Old Town Square is particularly lovely, with craft booths, decorations, a huge tree, and a stage for live entertainment, including caroling performances. Two small skating rinks are temporarily erected, one in Old Town Square and the other behind Mustek and the Myslbek shopping center. At Old Town there is also a manger scene with live animals and another area with pony rides. Decorations go up around the last week of November, when holiday activities begin, so even if you are planning to be away at Christmas, you´ll be able to enjoy the festive atmosphere in Prague.
Leading up to the holidays, there are several programs both in Prague and the surrounding countryside that provide opportunities to enjoy the season of Christmas. Several places, including Karlštejn, offer nativity scenes. One place of interest about one hour´s drive from Prague is Kouřim, an open air museum that is open year round but offers special activities related to the holidays and Czech traditions.
This year´s program at Kouřim is listed as follows:
3 December: Advent days
4 December: St. Nicholas Day program
17 December: Carols and a nativity display
18 December: Folklore days with carols, sweets decorating, candle making, etc.
Normal operating hours in December at Kouřim are:
Closed Mondays. Open Tuesday through Friday 9:00 to 13:00, and Saturday and Sunday 10:00 to 16:00.
It´s possible to do an Internet search to find various listings of Christmas activities around Prague. You need a bit of proficiency in Czech for this, or you can rely on a Czech-speaking friend. The easiest search is to go into the Czech search engine “seznam” or “centrum” and type in, for example, “vanocni programy 2005”. You will then see listings for activities and dates in various places. It can be quite useful if you are looking for something special to do with your friends, family and visitors. You can also look at the Prague Information Service website: www.pis.cz. This website also offers information in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian. Or stop by the Tourist Information Center in Old Town Square for further details on these and other activities, including those I´ve listed.
Czechs also have a tradition of cookies and other holiday treats and, of course, there is the traditional Christmas meal of carp. About a week before Christmas, carp stands with tanks of live fish begin appearing on streets around town. One can pick out the fish of choice and have it prepared to take home on the spot. Those who prefer to have a really fresh fish can take it home live and keep it in the bathtub until preparation time arrives and do it all themselves. I have known people who have done this and have lived to tell the tale.
There are numerous concerts of all the usual varieties, including some traditional Christmas music and carols. Národní Dům lists an International Festival of Christmas Carols on December 7 from 16:00 to 19:30. There is a concert on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, usually at the Rudolfinum. Listings of these concerts are often in the Prague Post entertainment section, on various billboards and leaflets around town, and undoubtedly through the Prague Information Service.
There is also a Christmas mass on Christmas Eve at St. Vitus Cathedral that is quite an experience, even for those who are not traditionally religious. Times are listed at the Cathedral.
The National Theater offers several performances of The Nutcracker before and after Christmas at matinee and evening times. For the more sporting, there is sure to be an ice hockey game to attend as well. This may not be a traditional Christmas activity, but most people will have some time off from work and it´s nice to enjoy some of the varied winter activities that Prague offers. One year our neighbors had visiting family for the holidays, so they took the women and children to see The Nutcracker while the men went to an ice hockey game. Everybody was happy.
Lastly, let´s not forget New Year´s Eve. You can take advantage of the many offerings of New Year´s Eve parties at various hotels around town or get together for a lively or quiet party (depending on your mood) with friends and neighbors. The best part is the fireworks. There´s a big display put on by the city in the center, but the best ones are in your local neighborhoods. It´s the one time of year that it is legal to set off fireworks privately. You can buy them at most stores, including Tesco, Delvita, Baumax, Hornbach, etc. There is nothing like standing outside and setting off your own fireworks display amidst all the others being launched in surrounding neighborhoods. I still find rockets in my yard in March after the snows melt, a small reminder of the fun had at the beginning of the new year.
These are just a handful of ideas and activities. Be creative, explore Prague and the countryside, and search out new activities. Then share the information with us! It´s always nice to have a new experience of local culture to share with others in Prague.