April 21st marks the Czech Easter Monday, Velikonoce, traditionally observed with unlimited shots of slivovice and, if you are a female, the sting of the pomlázka. Seasoned expats have no doubt experienced Czech Easter first-hand, but have you heard of – or, better yet, participated in – these other events?
The birthday butt bump
According to Wikipedia, the oddball practice of Hobla k narozeninám, is cousin to the Western tradition of birthday spankings and involves the birthday boy or girl – though I’m told it’s usually men who endure this humiliation – being swung hammock-style as a brave volunteer gets down on all fours for a rump bump more befitting an erotic film than a birthday party.
Do the verbuňk!
No, it’s not the latest Gangnam-style dance craze, the Slovácký verbuňk, which hails from the Slovakian Moravia region, is a kind of booze-fueled freestyle, typically busted out by men at any given feast or fest for any number of reasons, the most common of which is to impress the ladies. (So impressive is this dance, in fact, that it’s protected by UNESCO as part of the Czech Republic’s cultural heritage.)
A different kind of stag party
Czechs seems to have a particular knack for vábení jelenů, also known as impersonating a horny deer. Stag rutting season brings with it a number of local competitions – typically accompanied by festive music and the requisite liquid provisions – where participants use everything from ox horns to old lamps in an attempt to approximate the primal bleat of the randy buck. (The Czech film Muži v říji is a humurous ode to this Czech tradition.) Winners may advance to the European Deer Calling Championships; last year the Czech Republic’s Jan Brtnik took home top honors.
Meet the flaming Morenas
This unique folk custom still survives in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland. In late March an effigy of Morena, the Slavic goddess of death, is crafted from straw and women’s clothes – some of the dolls can be very ornate – marched to the nearest bridge by merry villagers, then stripped, burned, and tossed into the river to “drown”, symbolizing the end of winter. All this drowning and burning is, naturally, followed by much feasting and song. Fun fact: Czech death metal band Komunální odpad (Municipal Waste) wrote a song about Morena.
Czech out those pipes!
If you picture Scots in kilts when you hear the word “bagpipes”, think again. The bagpipe (dudácký) tradition in Bohemia goes all the way back to the 13th century and is commemorated annually, this year in August, by the International Bagpipe Festival in Strakonice, a town so historically intertwined with bagpiping that it inspired a 19th-century play, “The Bagpiper of Strakonice.”
The original pole dancing
May Day usually brings to mind maidens prancing around a slender, ribbon-bedecked pole. Not so much in the Czech Republic where its rural communities craft enormous májka by connecting two or three gigantic spruce trees. Once set aloft, neighboring villagers attempt to bring down the poles of others while simultaneously defending their own. The tradition remains especially strong in southern Moravia.
Something’s fishy at this fest
Loosely translated to mean “fish harvesting,” výlov rybníku dates back to the Middle Ages, when many Czech ponds were first built by monasteries to breed carp for Lent. Today, this beloved tradition is a highly anticipated fall cultural event. The fun typically includes refreshments and vendors set up along the shore selling handicrafts and fresh carp.
Read more about výlov rybníku and see fantastic photos here.
Have you ecountered any strange traditions or festivals while living in the Czech Republic?