Faithful readers and unexpected guests, I’d like to apologize for the tardiness in publishing this piece. I wrote it while in Prague and filed it away while I decided which picture to use. I hope it helps you to envisage the magic, the passion and the beauty of not only Christmas in Prague, but of life.
As stars twinkle to the west and dawn breaks in the east, to most of the world, Northern Hemisphere at least, it is the peaceful beginning of Christmas Eve day. The American within me, that inbred, innate part of me, and even the semi-adopted Englishmyn slice of me, screams inwardly out in protest. A fact that seems more than a tad bit unusual for me since in the last few years, in the “Sunset of my youth” so to speak, I have become more and more a ‘traditionalist’ when it comes to the commercialism of Christmas. But here in Prague, as I sit and breathe in my surroundings, I feel ‘at home’, for more than one reason, but that would be another story.
Having spent the better part of yesterday roaming various districts of the city in search of not only the perfect Christmas tree, but also quaint, handmade decorations for said tree and even more importantly, a stand for this unpurchased tree, I returned to my temporary abode in the Vinohrady district inwardly pleased, yet both mentally and physically exhausted. Today will bring on another search for tree, decorations and stand and failing the finding of such a stand, a fake (OH the travesty) tree. Personally, I’ve had a fake tree in the past, but it was mostly an economical measure and also a “save the carpet”one, too.
I am constantly reminded each time I leave the warmth of the apartment, that houses need not be covered in strings of flashing lights, that gaudy street decorations are not a prerequisite to Halloween or Thanksgiving, for that matter, and that while the giving of gifts, a tradition dating back to the “original” Christmas story, is fun and brings joy to both giver and receiver, that is NOT what Christmas is about.
Here in Prague, there are festivities and they range from choral concerts to the ever present, yet impromptu performances in the profoundly acoustical walkways that connect the upper world to the dual tracked metro stations. In the various squares scattered around the city, Christkindel Markets (i.e. Holiday Markets) can be experienced. Handmade goodies of all sorts are displayed like treasure in a museum. Christmas ornaments, lebkuchen, chocolates, and warm woolly hats, gloves and scarves intermingle with servers of plum jam filled potato crepes, bratwurst, sauerkraut and the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted.
Parents amble along, pushing strollers or clasping the hand of a child who, while bundled up against the chill of the night, tiny eyes aglow with the magic that this season brings, still smiles brightly, oblivious to the cold, warmed by the spirit of Christmas that only a child knows. I have yet to see a Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas or whatever you choose by your tradition and/or culture to call the imaginary entity that delivers the gifts to, both naughty and nice, despite Clement Clarke Moore’s ‘Twas
The Night Before Christmas. That is not to say that there is not such a person in the hearts and minds of children here, merely that they are not in every department store or on each street corner.
Church services held on Christmas Eve in a city which bears the nickname of “The City of a Hundred Spires”, and which is not that religion based. In fact, the Czech Republic is the most atheist country in the world. The churches are more historical than anything. The majority, or so it seems to me are Gothic in design, although I can think of one that stands out from the rest due to its cubist architecture. I actually looked forward to attending a midnight service, but exhaustion took control and attendance went by the wayside.
Christmas Eve was celebrated in the traditional German way. Dinner, glühwein: a wonderful, aromatic and warming mixture of red wine, cinnamon sticks, sugar and I’m sure, a few other niceties, and the opening of gifts were the “order of the evening” and this was completely new to me having been raised in America and bearing in mind that I currently reside in the United Kingdom. But I thoroughly enjoyed it and these, among many other things all played a part in making this the best Christmas ever.
As Christmas Eve and its traditions pass by, stomachs full of wonderful food and presents given and received, I sit here, thankful, blessed and safely content in the knowledge that I love and am loved. I can only hope that each and every one of you share this contentment. May your Christmas be wondrous and may the coming new year be a prosperous and happy one.
It is now, in most parts of this vast world we live in, Christmas Day and so, from Prague, I close this piece down with one final thought, veselé Vánoce, which as I am sure you can guess, means Merry Christmas.