Christmas in the Czech lands – a magical time for children and by vivi07

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									Christmas in the Czech lands – a magical time for children and adults
Prague, September 2006 – Christmas in the Czech Republic is one of the best times of the year. The streets of towns big and small are bedecked with yuletide decorations and town squares come alive with the hustle and bustle of Christmas markets. Old folk Christmas traditions are revived at open-air museums and children and adults alike stop at the sight of well-crafted figures in nativity scenes with delight in their eyes. Christmas and Advent music can be heard in concert halls, churches, castles and chateaux. A Czech Christmas is above all a time of cheer and friendship so accept our invitation and spend the festive season with us. The appearance of St Nicholas means Christmas is on its way While for adults the period leading up to Christmas is like no time at all, children impatiently count off the days on the Advent calendar. This agonizing wait for their Christmas presents is alleviated somewhat by the arrival of St Nicholas, who visits every child in the country on the eve of St Nicholas day December 5. This august figure is traditionally accompanied by an angel and a demon. He may scare the children a bit, but his main task is to give them some small gifts, fruit and sweets. This will be the scene on Charles Square in Třebíč (www.kviztrebic.cz). Christmas markets will be taking place in this UNESCO-listed town December 19 and 20. Christmas markets – the place to go for original gifts and a true Christmas atmosphere When the Christmas decorations go up it is a sure sign that the time has come to start looking for presents for your nearest and dearest. Of course you don’t want to buy them the same things every year. So come to Prague for inspiration and some original gift ideas. The Prague Christmas markets (www.prague-info.cz) taking place this year from December 2 until January 1, 2007 will take over the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. 150 decorated stands will be selling Christmas decorations, traditional Christmas corn dolls, straw decorations, gingerbread, fragrant candles, warm hats and gloves... Even if you don’t manage to choose a present you certainly won’t be able to resist the refreshments on offer. Hot punch, aromatic mead, roasted chestnuts and corn on the cob, old Bohemian sweet bread called a ‘trdlo’ and grilled sausages are some relief from the Christmas rush. Under the illuminated Christmas tree on the Old Town Square you’ll also find a nativity scene with real animals (a donkey, goats, sheep), which is always the focus of attention for a large crowd of children. As in previous years there will also be Christmas concerts, special performances and carol singing taking place. You can always swap the Christmas markets for the latest fashions and international brand names in the exclusive boutiques on Prague’s best-known shopping streets– Na Příkopech and Pařížská.

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The Czechs’ distinctive nativity scenes The story of Jesus’ birth has always been an inspiration for the creators of nativity scenes. These are made of various materials including wood, ceramics, paper and even gingerbread. Some of the nativity scenes you will discover in the Czech Republic are some of the finest in the world and can be found in churches, museums and open-air museums. The museum in Jindřichův Hradec (www.museum.esnet.cz) houses the largest mechanical scenes in the world – the Krýza Nativity Scene. It took the creator more than 60 years to complete this gargantuan undertaking which holds almost 1400 figures! In Třebechovice pod Orebem (www.betlem.cz) the villagers have even created a Nativity Scene Museum housing nativity scenes from across the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Their most valuable exhibit is the Třebechovice mechanical nativity scene. The prized possession at the Nativity Scene Museum in Karlštejn (www.obeckarlstejn.cz) is the Karlštejn royal nativity scene containing figures representing Czech kings. And be sure not to miss the museum’s exhibition of gingerbread nativity scenes. A romantic Christmas in a historical town Why not bring the family to enjoy Christmas in one of the most attractive towns in the Czech Republic - Český Krumlov (www.ckrumlov.cz/advent2006). This UNESCO-listed town will mark the beginning of Advent with a ceremony at which the lights on the Christmas tree are switched on and carols sung (December 3). Every Sunday in Advent there will be cultural events happening on the square and December 23 sees the townsfolk act out a live nativity scene. Another tradition in the town which takes place on Christmas Day is the Bears’ Christmas when bears from the moat around the castle receive gifts. If you come to Český Krumlov on Boxing Day (or the Feast of St Stephen as it is known in the Czech lands) expect much fine food and merrymaking. Christmas to the sound of medieval and Renaissance music can be experienced in another UNESCO-listed place, the historical town of Telč (www.telc-etc.cz). There will be carol singing at the town’s Christmas markets and at the chateau. Christmas at Czech castles and chateaux Visitors to Czech castles and chateaux will also notice that Christmas time is nigh from the decorated halls, guides in period costume and Christmas markets in the towns and villages around. The Christmas markets (9.–10. 12. 2006) at Loket Castle (www.hradloket.cz) are certainly worth the trip out to West Bohemia. Folk arts and crafts as well as sword fighting demonstrations will keep you and the children entertained, and for the little ones there is a special cake tournament. You can watch them take part while sipping a cup of hot mead or mulled wine. Křivoklát Castle (www.krivoklat.cz) will form the backdrop for a Christmas fair two weekends in Advent (9–10 and 16–17 December), which will include theatre performances and concerts. Music for Christmas and Advent Czech classical music is some of the world’s finest cultural heritage and there can be no better Christmas present for fans than special concerts of music for Christmas and Advent which take place at concert halls, markets, churches, castles and chateaux. These will often feature the Czech Christmas Mass called ‘Hej mistře, vstaň bystře’ composed by Jakub Jan Ryba at the end of the 18th century. This year it will be performed twice by the Prague State Opera (www.opera.cz) December 25 and 26. Concerts of organ music with a Christmas theme will also take place December 25 until January 6, 2007 at the Basilica of St James in the Old Town (www.auditeorganum.cz). The popularity of music specially written for Advent and Christmas can be seen from the number of festivals taking place. In Prague at
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the beginning of December there are two (December 8–10 www.choirs.cz; December 1–3 www.orfea.cz). At the Harmony in Ostrava festival taking place December 15 and 17 there will be performances by singers and dancers and demonstrations of fast disappearing folk crafts to the sound of real folk music. How was Christmas celebrated 100 years ago? Museums and their open-air cousins in the Czech Republic strive to revive a traditional yuletide spirit with old customs and traditions. Why not come to the Wallachian village museum in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm during a week of events called A Village Christmas (December 6–15) (www.vmp.cz). Here you will see the village schoolmaster teaching his pupils Christmas carols, housewives baking and decorating gingerbread, a skilful carver making a flock of sheep from wood, and if you arrive on December 9, you will have the chance to buy this traditional produce at the Christmas market. You are then invited to a concert of Christmas carols on Boxing Day. Christmas in the fertile Slovácko Region is at its best during an event called ‘Let us rejoice, let us be merry…’ held by the Museum of Southeast Moravia in the village of Strážnice December 2–6 (www.nulk.cz). The local traditional buildings will be decorated in a rural Christmas style from the last century, and the villagers will be busy preparing for Christmas baking Christmas biscuits or making straw dolls for the nativity scene. If you take a fancy to these figures, you can purchase them directly from the makers. A visit to the Příbram Mining Myseum (www.museum-pribram.cz) means a trip into a mysterious subterranean world. December 11—22 visitors can see a festively decorated miners’ house and the Prokop Tunnel, which is visited by mine train. And don’t miss the annual exhibition of nativity scenes at the František Drtikol Gallery (December 7 – January 7, 2007). Christmas Eve is a time for telling the future Christmas Eve is an important Christian festival, but it is also a day when people say magic can be done. There are various simple ways to find out if this is true. A fish scale placed under your plate during the Christmas Eve dinner is said to bring wealth and happiness in the coming year. If you fast all day until the evening, you should also see another symbol of happiness, a golden pig. After a belt-busting meal it’s good time to try to foretell the future. Cut open an apple, and if the pips are in the shape of a perfect star, you will enjoy wealth and good health in the coming year. Finding four healthy walnuts in their shells is also said to bring sound health. Pouring molten lead into water then reading the shapes it forms is fun for the children, and throwing a slipper over the shoulder is of interest to girls and women who want to know if they are destined to be married in the coming year. What would Christmas be without carp and some tasty goodies? Preparations for Christmas usually start several weeks beforehand. The house or flat is cleaned from top to bottom, biscuits are baked and presents bought – and everything has to be ready by Christmas Eve so that the family can sit down to dinner before gathering around the Christmas tree. The festive menu is the subject of much debate and differs slightly from family to family. Traditionally, the first course is fish soup (or potato soup) with a main course of fried carp and potato salad. Many Czechs eat carp just once a year at Christmas. This is why at this time of year you will see huge tubs full of fish brought from the famous fish farms of South Bohemia. However, the carp does not necessarily have to end up on your plate. It can be released back into a river on Christmas Eve.

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Christmas biscuits are another integral part of a Czech Christmas. Even though the most popular varieties can now be bought easily, Czech housewives definitely prefer the homemade sort just thanks to the joy they get from making them with help from the children. Christmas biscuits are baked well in advance so that they are soft and fragrant just at the right time. Some of the ever-presents are vanilla rolls, Christmas sweetbread sprinkled with almonds, Linz biscuits, and honey gingerbread. The recipes for these goodies have been refined and improved by several generations so be sure not to miss a chance to taste some when in the Czech Republic. New Year’s Eve as you want it to be… Most Czech towns put on a great show on New Year’s Eve, and this is especially true in Prague. On the Old Town Square the New Year’s Eve show will start in the afternoon and reach a climax with a huge firework display to welcome in 2007. You can also take part in New Year’s Eve celebrations in the magnificent surroundings of the State Opera. Immediately Strauss’s opera ‘Die Fledermaus’ ends, the stage is turned into a dance floor with a swing orchestra to help you dance the night away (www.opera.cz). If you prefer to spend the festive season in the lap of luxury, why not take advantage of the special offers available at some of Prague’s best hotels or at the world-famous Grandhotel Pupp in Carlsbad (www.pupp.cz). Start the new year in the mountains Christmas is over and you fancy a change of scenery and a bit of exercise. In the winter months there is nothing better than a holiday in the mountains. There are kilometres of cross-country skiing trails, downhill slopes of varying standards, sledge and bobsleigh runs and much more. You will find excellent resorts in the Krkonoše, Beskydy, Jeseníky, Jizerské, Krušné and Orlické Mountains and in the Šumava area. Some of the best are Špindlerův Mlýn, Harrachov and Pec pod Sněžkou in the Krkonoše Mountains, Bedřichov in the Jizerské Mountains and Praděd in the Jeseníky range. For more information on holidaying in the Czech mountains visit www.holidayinfo.cz and www.ceskehory.cz.

For more information please contact: Markéta Chaloupková Czech Tourist Authority – CzechTourism, PR Dept tel.: +420 221 580 445 e-mail: chaloupkova@czechtourism.cz www.CzechTourism.com

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