Last Sunday I attended the first ever Czech international oyster opening competition, which was held on Prague's Old Town Square, where the square meets Dlouha street. While that event was going on, most of the people on the beautiful old square were much more interested in the Easter market which has been open there for the last few weeks. There is also an Easter market at the bottom of Wenceslas Square at the moment.
While the markets themselves are evidently traditional, most of the items on sale have nothing whatsover to do with Easter - you can buy the same huge colourful felt hats, cheap bags, candles and Prague souvenirs that are on sale to tourists all year round. What interests me is the goods which are Easter-related. I must say that one thing I admire about the Czechs is the way in which they maintain their traditions.
I'm from Ireland and in terms of traditions, Easter means nothing much to the average adult, apart from a long weekend, and to Irish kids it is simply synonymous with chocolate Easter eggs, and lots of them. The Czechs have much more colourful traditions. Some of them seem a bit bizarre to me, especially the tradition of men and boys hitting women and girls with a plaited willow switch. I have never felt the inclination to thrash women myself, but - "different country, different morals" as the Czechs say. They tell me that in Moravia - the part of the country where customs are most closely held - the women and girls respond by throwing water over the guys. Sounds fair to me.
As to why Easter - and also Christmas - traditions appeal to a confirmed non-believer like myself, I can only assume that these customs speak to the closet conservative in me.
Twelve years have passed since the country opened up to the west, and a lot of Czechs tell me that with creeping westernisation they are now starting to lose some of their traditions. I sincerely hope that is not true.
As a foreigner my opinion obviously carries little weight, but I have to say I am against the introduction of western customs and traditions to this country. Halloween, Valentine's Day, Santa Claus - those customs have no place in this culture, and I must say I resent the people - buisness people for the most part - who have been trying their best to get these traditions started here in order to turn a crown or two. Santa Claus is particularly pernicious, as it is aimed at kids. Surely it must be confusing to young Czech children when they learn at home that it is the Baby Jesus who brings them Christmas presents, but television serves them up hundreds of schlocky American films of the Santa Saves Christmas variety.
There is talk of introducing a more-agreeable sounding tradition in the Czech Republic - making Good Friday (Velky Patek or Big Friday as the Czechs call it) a public holiday. The more religious Slovakia has made it a holiday since the two countries split, and recently the Czech Bishops Conference called for a similar move here. For once in my life I find myself agreeing with bishops - make Good Friday a public holiday as soon as possible, say I. That said, I am all for holidays in general and would gladly welcome any Jewish or Islamic, or even Hare Krishna, national holiday too!
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