There’s not so much in the way of Santa in these parts of the world, and Czech children address their wish letters to Baby Jesus. While there are many advent workshops and Mikuláš events in early December, things dwindle down the closer we come to December 24th. Most expats leave the country during Christmas vacation, and locals tend to prefer quiet time with family – preferably outside of Prague. But there are still a few options to make the season more magical.
You can bring your child to Diplomat Hotel, where Santa is waiting to hear their secret wish. The last day for this is Monday, December 12th from 11:00 -16:00. Shopping center Arkády Pankrác is decorated with cute snowmen and a photographer will take portrait shots of your children with them. Letňany shopping center has a fun new exhibit of golden pigs that kids will love. What’s that got to do with Christmas? Some Czechs observe the custom of fasting until dinner time the day of December 24th. If you can manage that, you will have a vision of a golden pig – which heralds good health and prosperity in the coming year. The Atrium has a small display of animated polar bears.
Every Tuesday there’s free children’s theater at Park Hostivař and in December it’s with a Christmas theme. But they end on the 13th of December – after this, there are none. Tuesdays are fun at Galerie Harfa too – December 13th “Myš a Maš” do a show at Studio HM at 16:00. The following week at the same time is Vánoční betlém at Bambule. Both productions are in Czech-only though, so it’s not ideal, but you can round out the trip by ice skating for free.
Speaking of ice skating, you could take your child to one of the three shows of Popelka na ledě. This is the Czech version of Cinderella, and is traditionally a Christmas performance. And if ice skating is a hit, there are Christmas markets with skating rinks too – like the one at Ovocný trh, between Václavské and Staroměstské nám. If you plan a trip to the main Christmas market at Staroměstská, be advised it’s big and quite bustling – so plan for it by giving your child a bright hat and having a backup plan if you are separated.
One of the things to see is a crèche of live animals – a donkey, some sheep and goats, and a gorgeous furry pony, who doesn’t seem to mind all the little kids stroking him constantly. Inside the building that butts onto the crèche is a “dílna”, or crafts workshop, where kids can write letters to Ježíšek and cut snowflakes. It’s nicely heated and a welcome break from the madness. Click here for the daily program of live performances.
While in the area, if you have a young lady with you who is interested in dolls, you could go have a look at the newly opened doll museum on Rytířská.
There are lots of Christmas activities during Výstaviště’s Advent (through December 18th), including an exhibit of historical costumes lent by Barrandov and housed in the old counts’ chambers. You even get a glimpse of Hell – and a chance to be photographed in the dated duds. Open every day of the week, until 19:00. You can even order a séance or fortune telling for your family or watch a children’s theater performance like the Czech-language “Christmas Snow White”. Something people of any linguistic background can enjoy is the life-size Nativity scene.
Nativity scenes is what Christmas is all about, after all, and unlike America, where people get touchy about seeing them on public ground, here they are proudly displayed at every market. To see some amazing nativities, visit the Charles Bridge Museum, where you’ll find an African nativity carved of mahogany (except for Balthazar – he’s ivory). Or take the trip to Karlštejn to visit the Bethlehem Museum, which features a large, moving nativity scene. The kids may enjoy such curiosities as a nativity made of gingerbread.
In Jindřichův Hradec, you can view the world’s biggest mechanical nativity.
Visit beautiful Bethlehem Kapel through January 2nd to see the exhibit “Painted Christmas”. It’s not specifically for children, but you can help them enjoy it by using “kids in art gallery tricks” like making up stories about what’s happening in the pictures, choosing your favorites, or make up a simple scavenger hunt (for example: “You get 3 points for every donkey you spot…etc.”)
My last tip for you is a visit to the Botanical garden in Prague 2 (not the one in Troja). Here you will find miniature gnomes tucked in amongst the plants – and called “Traditional Czech Christmas”
For a traditional American or English Christmas, though, you know you need Santa Claus or Father Christmas. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to keep in touch thanks to modern technology:
Santa Call: You can download this iPhone app and customize it with child’s name, and choose one good and one bad behavior from a menu. Santa then “video calls” them to congratulate them on their good behavior and warn them about the bad, encouraging them to do better. He can call as many times as you need him to (like right in the middle of a meltdown).
Santa Speaking – This website lets you place an order for a live call for up to 3 children; for an added fee, you can have the call recorded.
Money saving online Santa options here.
Track Santa: This website lets you track Santa’s progress in “real time”.
Free Message from Santa Movie: It’s free to upload a few photos and select some messages for Santa to deliver.
Here is a sample of the final product that I made in 5 minutes for my daughter – http://www.portablenorthpole.tv/watch/gY9_X9PGVKwTLAErqj40ewA
For more advanced thinkers – This report explains how Santa uses high tech surveillance to monitor children’s wishes, nanotechnology to create presents molecularly inside their homes (contrary to the myth, he doesn’t carry them anymore) and bends the space-time continuum to get to all those houses in just one night.
TRIPS OUTSIDE OF PRAGUE
For those who are staying in the Czech republic this season, here are some fun ideas for excursions. Many castles that close after summer re-open their doors to the public during Christmas. Below are just a few that I’ve chosen because they take place through New Years, so you can plan a trip during the slow rime after Christmas.
Christmas fairytale tours of Staré Hrady Castle
On this fairytale-themed tour, a wizard, princess, or demon will guide you through a Christmas wonderland. See how our great-grandmothers celebrated Christmas – the day will be full of surprises and you’re sure to make many new friends.
Dates: 26.11.-8.1. 2012 10:00-17:00.
Christmas tours of Lysice Chateau
Anyone who arrives at the chateau, bedecked in yuletide finery, can take a tour of the interiors and gardens. The tours will also include the floor on which the libraries are located as well as the large salon containing the Christmas tree, the chateau chapel, where children can see the baby Jesus, and the lady’s quarters. The Renaissance salon will also host an exhibition entitled ‘Angels of Centuries Past’.
Dates: 25.12.-31.12. 2011 10:00-16:00.
Christmas toys for children and adults at the chateau in Vranov nad Dyjí
This is an exhibition of fascinating mechanical and tin toys, puppet theater, puppets, games, dolls, wooden toys, miniature pots and pans and many other intriguing items. As always, the atmosphere focuses on various Christmas designs, decorations new and old and nativity scenes. Visitors can also view the winter area of the chateau boasting a wine cellar where warm beverages and traditional refreshments will be served. Guides will be happy to show visitors the illuminated Ancestors’ Hall and the Chapel of the Holy Trinity.
Dates: 26.12.-1.1. 2012 12:00-16:00
Christmas tours at the chateau in Hrubý Rohozec
The chateau at Hrubý Rohozec will be running tours of its Christmassy interiors, during which you can learn about Christmas traditions observed by the chateau’s former owners. In the chapel you can peruse an old nativity scene carved in wood, and in the Green Room a Christmas tree guarding gifts for the count, countess and their children awaits. An early Christmas present for all visitors will be the displaying of one of the oddest exhibits at the chateau – the newly renovated weights machine, which belonged to Count Mikuláš Vladimír Des Fours Walderode at the end of the 19th century.
Dates: 26.12.-1.1.2012 10:00-14:00.
For people not living in a castle, Christmas here was different but still very special. Experience it for yourself in this historical village by the Elbe Museum. The cottages at this open-air museum are brought to life and you can see old customs and traditions observed during Advent and in the period between Christmas and 12th Night.
Dates: 26.11.2011 – 15.1.2012
A unique glass nativity scene at Bezdružice Chateau
The former chateau chapel is home to a quite unique glass nativity scene created by the artist Jaromír Rybák. The scene is made of glass with a high lead content – Brazilian crystal which has been polished, cut, gilded and coated in bronze. The nativity scene is composed in such a way that it can be viewed from behind, enabling visitors to get right inside the story of the birth of Christ.
Dates: November & December every weekend 10:00-17:00.
Nativity scene trail through the town of Třešť – an annual exhibition of household nativity scenes
In the town of Třešt’, near Jihlava, the locals observe a tradition going back 200 years of displaying nativity scenes in local houses. Every year around 15 houses are opened up to the public.