Czech Christmas is a Fairytale

15-12-2004

With Christmas around the corner the Czech Republic has turned into a one big Christmas market. Christmas trees are now being sold in many streets and before long traditional Christmas carp will appear in big cisterns on street corners, in preparation for the Czech Christmas dinner. Although Christmas decorations have been increasingly influenced by western fashion, natural materials remain the most popular, as can be seen at exhibitions of Nativity scenes to be found in many places around the Czech Republic

There's no better place to go for a taste of a traditional Czech Christmas than the special Christmas Exhibition in Prague, a show that certainly doesn't need any promotion. It has a tradition going back 25 years and it usually starts 2 weeks before Christmas ending just a few days after the New Year kicks in. It is especially popular among grandparents showing their grandchildren Christmas traditions which shouldn't be forgotten.

This year the exhibition is called "Christmas in the Kitchen" and 170 exhibitors attempt to create the magic of the traditional Czech Christmas, with the focus on food. The main parts of the exhibition are 120 Nativity scenes - or "Betlemy" as they are called in Czech - made from wood, textiles, paper, glass and a few edible ones made from gingerbread or salty pastry. Blahoslav Lukavec says

"Here are Nativity scenes from salty pastry made by an 80-year-old woman. The figures are made the same way as plasticine figures that children make. It is very animated, to appeal to small children. The figures are in motion, there is an old woman with a goat and you expect the goat to run out of the scene, there is a baker with buns and cakes for the little Jesus and a miller with a bag of flour on a push cart. Here is a Nativity scene made by 12 year-old children. They have learnt to carve and this helps to keep them off the street and away from trouble."

To show folk customs as vividly as possible, lacemaking and woodcarving workshops have been put up at the exhibition. The carver Jana Rejmanova, has taken part in the exhibition for the last five years. She and her father have been carving a wooden Nativity scene, which is to be a permanent exhibit in the future. So far 26-centimetre-high figures of the Holy Family have been made and each year new figure is carved at the exhibition. The completed wooden scene will be used as a model for a stone Nativity scene, with a figure of the baby Jesus welcoming visitors at the entrance to the exhibition. Jana Rejmanova, who is still only 21, talks about her plans.

"It was my father who started carving. My two other sisters and I have been learning from him. We have created a large number of Nativity scenes and have four that we wouldn't sell for any price. We have a lot of orders, mainly from churches and we basically spend the whole year carving. The stone scene is our biggest challenge for the future. We are going to start with the figure of the Virgin Mary as soon as it gets warmer. I think we will have enough work to keep us going till we retire. "

Blahoslav Lukavec has been organising the Christmas Exhibition since 1980 and is delighted by the huge number of people who come to visit. He thinks that Czech Christmas is the most beautiful in the world.

"Christmas in the Czech Republic is celebrated in a specific way. Our Nativity scenes have been adapted in many countries but they are not as nice. Czech Christmas is very magical and it makes you feel like in a fairytale. In comparison with fairytales of other countries, Czech fairytales are sweet and nice, not full of frightening things. Czechs also have beautiful carols about the baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary. They are full of pleasure and joy. That is what Czech Christmas is about."

15-12-2004