20-12-2003

Most of us are freezing cold here in Central Europe but some Czechs are looking forward to a New Years' dip in the Vltava river, the Czech and Slovak prime ministers race each other across the Czech-Slovak border and the light of Bethlehem has arrived in the Czech Republic. As every year you can also find it at the Czech Radio building here in Prague. Find out more in this weeks Magazine with Daniela Lazarova

Every Christmas a steady stream of people make their way to the headquarters of Czech Radio- the building on Vinohradska 12, just minutes away from Prague's Wenceslas Square. They arrive with little lanterns and candles in order to take home the light of Friendship from the town of Bethlehem. This is now a seven year old tradition and the Bethlehem light as it is called will arrive at the Czech Radio building at 11 am on Sunday, December 21st. It will remain there until December 25th. The Light of Friendship travels from Bethlehem, by plane, to 25 countries around the world, and burns in institutions such as the United Nations or the European Parliament. Ever since the Czech Republic joined the tradition seven years ago more and more Czechs arrive at Czech Radio to take the light of friendship home for Christmas.

The first snowfall is finally here and with it the appearance of the first snowman in the streets of Prague. This particular snowman however was not what you'd expect: he was bright, round and cheerful - and made of junk mail paper! The environment-friendly campaign, organized by the Arnica eco-group, was an appeal for more people to say no to junk mail. Leaflets in the mail are still a very popular form of advertising in the Czech Republic and every day post boxes are crammed full of ads that most people don't care for. Only a fifth of the used paper is recycled. Arnika is asking Czechs who don't want junk mail to put NO JUNK MAIL please signs on their post boxes and for advertisers to use recycled paper. The glossy kind they like to use is difficult to recycle - and for every block of flats advertisers use up 400 kilograms of paper a year!

Czech zoos have appealed to the public not to buy exotic animals as Christmas gifts without giving the matter serious prior consideration. The import of exotic animals - both legal and illegal - in recent years has tempted many people to give in to their children's pleas and buy them a truly exotic pet. Vets say that people rarely have a good idea of the animal's needs or its habits and it only takes a few weeks of coexistence for them to lose patience. Every year it is the same, zoos complain. People bring us lizards, monkeys, large parrots or turtles because they want to be rid of them.

Although zoos do make some exceptions basically they cannot take in extra animals either because they have no room for them, cannot afford to feed them or because they would not get on with the animals they already have. The head of the Brno Zoo Martin Hovorka says that last year alone people arrived on their doorstep with 70 turtles. What was a lot worse, he said, was the zoo's attempt to take in a couple of prairie dogs which got into a bad fight with those the zoo already had.

If your child is crazy about an exotic animal - give them an adoption certificate. That way the animal will be well cared for in the conditions it requires and its "patron" can come and visit any time. Moreover the child's name will appear on a plaque on the cage - making it their very own tiger, monkey or brown bear.

With temperatures at around zero degrees most people feel it is cold enough but some hardy swimmers are looking forward to a dip in the Vltava river. The Prague club of "hardy" men and women was established in 1947 and every Wednesday and Saturday snow, rain or shine they take a swim in the Vltava river. Their annual New Years' swim has become a traditional event attended by lots of onlookers and television cameras. Today the club has 49 members, among them nine women. They take freezing cold showers, long walks and boast that they can't even remember what a cold or flue feels like.

The rest of us who get goose flesh just thinking about swimming in the Vltava river -and who know exactly what a flue feels like are now dreading it. The papers have increased their warnings in recent days about an approaching flue epidemic which is expected to hit at around Christmas. As a result people have been taking the chemists by storm. Flu medicine is reportedly selling like hot cakes - and a wide variety of vitamin supplements and wellness products as well. Just a few years ago, nobody would have dreamed of giving someone vitamins as a Christmas gift, but now that the wellness concept has taken root the industry is making big business.

Now, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has his own recipe for fitness and good health -jogging. The Czech prime minister doesn't miss an opportunity to jog -be it at home or on visits abroad. He is acquiring a reputation for tiring out his hosts bodyguards and he likes to challenge his political partners and adversaries to give it a try as well. This weekend the Prime Minister is running with someone who has proved to be a match for him - the Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda. Despite the frosty weather the two prime ministers are to take part in an international run - leading across the Czech Slovak border. The Skalica-Holic-Hodonin run is over ten km long and is open to anyone -all you need is a valid ID. The prime ministers are likely to put on a good show - as they did at the European ten kilometre veterans race, where the Slovak head of government Mikular Dzurinda proved to be the better man. He was at the goalpost a minute before his Czech rival and as the latter panted up to him he told journalists - the bad news is: we are both veterans - the good news is "I won!"

The Czech Republic is the fourth biggest exporter of Christmas decorations in the world - so the chances are you may well have some Czech made decorations on your Christmas tree. In fact in the year 2000 the firm Ornex in Jablonec nad Nisou was the number one exporter of blown-glass and hand-painted Christmas decorations in Europe. The firm exports 30 to 50 million glass decorations annually - produced and hand painted by a thousand employees. Buyers from around the world can state precisely how they want them decorated -some want a Czech village and church motif which is very popular, others prefer geometric designs -but there are also requests for mobile phone decorations or a golden-black Egyptian motif made for Harrods in London.

Jezisek - the Czech version of Santa will by all accounts arrive with the wrong kind of presents this year. According to a last minute pre-Christmas survey Czechs would prefer to get home appliances, mobile phones, exotic holidays', computers and cars. What they will mostly get is clothes, perfumes, books, maps and video and DVD cassettes. Children however are less likely to be disappointed - because children have been talking about what they want for months. The main piece of advice for grown ups selecting gifts for children is "no softies, please ". "Softies" being the kids expression for clothes which they certainly do not consider to be a gift.

20-12-2003