At the sign of a Czech Jack O'Lantern

28-10-2007

Since the 1990s a number of imported holidays - like St Valentine's or St Patrick's - have made something of an inroad in Prague and perhaps other Czech cities, not least because they make fairly decent commercial sense: Valentine's actually a good deal of customers to the florists every February 14th, while St Paddy's helps fill up the city's already heavily visited Irish pubs. But one "holiday" which has made less of an impact, perhaps surprisingly, is Halloween. After many years in the Czech Republic, I must admit that I feel a tinge, just a tinge, of regret when October 31st passes every year mostly unmarked. That's one holiday - don't stake me! - I wouldn't mind seeing...

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK I grew up in Canada where I loved Halloween as a child, and while I don't miss the commercialism of plastic pumpkins and cardboard stands already in stores in September, I still remember the sense of intrigue and mystery that came with the day: as far as kids events go I don't think it was half bad.

The way I remember it, the streets were always windy on the 31st, the autumn leaves blowing, and there was a certain scariness and wonder, not least when the first children cut silhouettes in ghost costumes across someone's yard. It makes me wonder what I'll do when I have my own children in Prague one day on the night of the 31st. Probably go see a movie, or just stay home, or walk the dog. Sigh. The few Halloween events within the North American expatriate community which I have had the misfortune of attending, here in Prague were certainly nothing exciting: either dress up as a vampire at an expat bar and drink cheap Bloody Marys, or a 2-for-1 scary movie night at the international movie rental. Certainly nothing with any real sense of atmosphere or charm. The absolute worst was an invite a few years ago to the dreariest of "scarefests" ever - that travesty known as the Blair Witch Project - at Prague's famous Lucerna theatre.

Yet, there is potential for a good Halloween in the Czech Republic, really! I know: some of the smaller towns have taken notice, holding small Czech-style events. And why not? Any town with a history going back hundreds of years is in a perfect position to take full advantage of the holiday, not least if it has a decent castle ort an historic square, perfect for a "scary" library reading and maybe a lantern walk around the ramparts. Many sites are chock-full of local legends perfect for October 31st: stories of wicked noblemen, ghosts, even vampires from the Middle Ages. Add to that the Potter-mania which Czech children have enjoyed until now and you're almost all set. But no one has really taken advantage, or if they've tried, no one has taken notice. The biggest toy store in Prague has a few silly outfits of pirates and knights and so far they don't seem to be selling. I guess there's a chance the largest commercial TV station will play John Carpenter's "Hallowe'en" on TV - if anyone at the station remembers. But that's about it.

Okay, okay, I can hear the grumbling already: thank goodness it'll never catch on, etc.! Hallowe'en in Prague would be the worst thing ever! And I understand, I do: who needs the pumpkins and witches here and caramels and related Halloween kitsch? On the other hand, imagine just for a second how it might fit: Spalovac Mrtvol (The Cremator) by Juraj Herz is a truly chilling film that would be perfect for the event, and really, who wouldn't enjoy dressing up on the 31st as the legendary Czech genius Jara Cimrman, or the Czech witch Saxana, or the Good Soldier Svejk, if only just once?

Me, I'd go as the guy in the hockey mask... you know the one I mean: and no, I'm not talking about "Jason" from Friday the 13th.

28-10-2007