02-01-2005

In this edition: New Year's greetings, the most popular winter foods, the history of written Czech, the winner of December's competition. Listeners quoted: Muhammad Shamim, India; Harjot Singh Brar, India; R.L. Scott, Canada.

Welcome to the first Mailbox in 2005. Happy New Year to all of you and thank you very much for all those lovely New Year greetings we have received from all around the world.

Christmas and New Year celebrations may be over but we are still only at the start of winter which will officially last until the 21st of March. Radio Prague's listener Muhammad Shamim from India would like to know what is the most typical winter food in the Czech Republic.

Most typical winter foods are associated with Christmas and New Year, such as carp and potato salad on Christmas Eve, special sweet Christmas bread, Christmas cookies or lentils on New Year's Day symbolising money that we would like to make in the starting year. Another item connected with winter are roast chestnuts that are sold hot in the streets, but it is mainly hot drinks, such as mulled wine, punch or grog that are most strongly associated with winter time.

Now onto another question sent in by Mr Harjot Singh Brar, from Punjab, India:

"What was the original script used for the Czech language? Was the Czech language ever written in the Cyrillic script?"

The Cyrillic alphabet was named after St. Cyril, one of the two missionary brothers from Byzantium who were invited to spread the word of God in Great Moravia, in the 9th century AD. The script was invented sometime during the 10th century AD, possibly by St. Kliment of Ohrid, to write the Old Church Slavonic language. Currently, modernised versions of the alphabet are used to write the Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian languages. It is also used in some other former Soviet republics and in Mongolia.

Glagolitic and Cyrillic scriptGlagolitic and Cyrillic script In what is now the Czech Republic, another script was used. The Glagolitic alphabet was invented in the latter half of 9th century by the Byzantine brothers St Cyril and St Methodius, in order to translate the Bible and other religious works into the language of the Great Moravia region. They probably modelled the Glagolitic on a cursive form of the Greek alphabet with a few Hebrew or Samaritan signs, and based their translations on a Slavic dialect of the Thessalonica area, which formed the basis of the literary standard known as Old Church Slavonic. The Glagolitic script is more complicated than the Cyrillic. This script spread to Bohemia and monks used it to write religious texts in the Old Church Slavonic language.

In the 10th century Old Church Slavonic was replaced by Latin, along with the Latin alphabet, when the rulers of Bohemia leaned towards Western Christianity. For two centuries Latin dominated the local writing, until the 13th century when literature first starts to be written in the Czech language and in the Latin alphabet.

And around about that time when Old Church Slavonic was being pushed out by Latin and the western Christian rite, lived the man whose name we asked you to tell us in Radio Prague's December competition. The question was:

"A well-known English-language Christmas carol sings about a kind monarch who was in fact a historic figure, a Czech prince and a saint. We'd like to know who he was."

Of course, the answer is Prince Wenceslas I or Vaclav of the Premyslid dynasty, the Czech nation's patron saint. Legend portrays him as a pious man and a Christian martyr. He was murdered by his own brother in the year 935 near Prague. Historically, Prince Wenceslas helped the Czech lands ally themselves with the Saxon king Henry the Fowler and made peace with the neighbouring Germans. The legend of St Wenceslas travelled far and is remembered in the popular English Christmas Carol "Good King Wenceslas". And although it is his murderous brother Boleslav who is credited with founding the independent Czech state, Saint Wenceslas has become the symbol of Czech statehood.

The question proved to be a very easy one because all the answers we got were correct. And this month, the lucky winner is Mr R.L. Scott from Toronto, Canada.

"The answer, I believe, is Prince and Saint Wenceslas (Vaclav), who is commemorated in the well-known English-language carol, 'Good King Wenceslas', with lyrics by The Rev'd J.M. Neale and a tune from what was originally a Spring carol called 'Tempus Adest Floridum' (according to the 'Oxford Book of Carols'). Vesele vanoce a stastny novy rok! P.S.: At our Festival of Lessons and Carols in the Parish today, I played a musical medley including 'Cas radosti, veselosti', which I learned from Radio Praha."

Congratulations, Mr Scott, and there is a CD for you in the post.

And we time only to announce our competition question for January.
One of the mayors of the US city of Chicago was of Czech origin. Born in Kladno near Prague he left for the United States as a child. He started working at a young age as a coal miner and gradually worked his way up to become Chicago's mayor. In his third year of office in 1933 he was wounded in an assassination attempt on President Roosevelt and died weeks later of his injuries. He is buried at the Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago. We'd like you to tell us his name.

Please, send your answers to English@radio.cz or to Radio Prague English Section, 12099 Prague 2, Czech Republic by the end of January.

02-01-2005