Wednesday, December 16, 2009

NOW it feels like Christmas!!

What a difference a month makes

This year has been my first real winter and I have to say that I've really enjoyed it so far. Even though there hadn't really been any snow, the cold brisk air and wintry clouds certainly helped to make it feel like Christmas. However, today vastly improved all that because we got our first real snow of the year. Now "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" and "Its Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" became very literal for me as sang them throughout the day. And those songs really take on new meaning (at least for me) when they match the conditions perfectly.

To celebrate this lovely day and the wonderful mood it put me in, I went to visit Sarka park near my apartment. This produced several firsts for me. It was my first time to see a lake frozen over (in person). It was the first time I have tried to climb a frozen hill in tennis shoes (I don't recommend trying this). It was my first time to make a snow angel :) (and a pretty good one if I do say so myself) (and I DO!)

This was definitely a perfect last day in Prague before my trip home. I'd like to think it was the city's way of saying goodbye and hurry back.

For now though, I'm off to Texas until January. There won't be any new posts between now and then because there are only 4 things I would talk about; the 4 Fs. Family, friends, food and football. And since those are all common topics and this is a travel journal ... you get the idea. Hope you enjoy the pictures and hopefully i'll see many of you during the next 3 weeks in DFW!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

And now for something completely different

Today we're switching gears a bit to talk about Czech holiday traditions. We're doing this because they have some interesting and downright weird traditions.

An example of this is the celebration of the Christmas season. First, Santa Claus does not bring presents on Christmas eve. The baby Jesus does. Children write Christmas lists and mail them to the baby Jesus who makes present appear miraculously on Christmas Eve. No big red sacks or reindeer here.

Presents are opened on the evening of the 24th after eating the traditional Christmas fish (carp) for dinner. Christmas day is for visiting family. The 2nd day of Christmas is for visiting friends.

But fear not, St. Nicholas is not forgotten. He is celebrated on December the 5th. To honor him, people get dressed up as St. Nicholas, angels and devils. In trios, they go door to door and all around asking children and their parents if the children have been good. If they have, St. Nicholas gives them a treat or small present which he gets from the angel. If they haven't, St. Nicholas tells them that the devil will put them in a sack and take them down to hell (unless they start being good). Until recently, people were very dedicated about pretending to act on this threat. However, this has been curtailed lately because 3 years ago one devil went so far as to pick up the child and put him in a sack and closed the top while the parents watched. The child was so scared he screamed for an hour and was later diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome. Amazingly, this did NOT result in a lawsuit (just one of the reasons I love the Czech Republic)

But my favorite crazy holiday tradition is yet to come. For Easter, the men and boys here (especially boys) go out and break off the branches of pussywillows. They take these branches and twist them into a kind of whip. Then they proceed to hit (or beat or spank) every women they know (including neighbors) with it and the women in gratitude give them painted Easter eggs, ribbons to decorate their whips and food. In addition the boy has to sing or recite a special Easter carol that can be very funny.

So what do you think of all these?

Oh, and the reason the last tradition was my favorite was not because I want to beat women but because it is SO different from anything in the States.

Another picture of the Old Town Square Christmas Market

Old Town Square Christmas Market Video

Christmas time in Europe

The Christmas season is now in full swing over here (as you can see from the picture of Old Town Square above). And though Christmas is nicely celebrated in public places in America, things are just on a different level here. Christmas Markets line every major square and they never seem to lack for business. Nativities, Christmas trees and free public concerts are a daily occurrence.

On friday, I got the chance to see one of the Vienna Christmas markets (pictured above) while I was there to pick up my long term visa (I can now legally stay in CZ until September 2010!). After spending the morning there and most of Saturday roaming around the Prague markets, I have decided that I like each of them for different reasons. I love the Vienna market for its open, simple layout, for the Christmas music playing there and for the pure focus on the season. Everything there was all about Christmas.

The Prague markets on the other hand, are much closer and felt more intimate and alive. There are a few non-Christmas things there but the selection and the prices are much better. But really I just love the atmosphere of the Old Town Square market. Hopefully these pictures do it some small measure of justice.

On an even more exciting note, I'm coming home in a week and a half! I have 3 weeks to see family and friends, watch (and play) plenty of football and eat all the wonderful Texas foods I have so dearly missed. Anyone who wants to join me in these things will be most welcome!

PS. Since I've been accused of smiling in every picture I take, here is something different.