Thursday, December 10, 2009

Saint Barbora Day and Saint Mikuláš Day

Last Friday, 4 Dec., was Saint Barbora's Day. I came in to work to find this branch in a cup of water. I, honestly, didn't think to ask about it. Later on in the day, my co-worker asked me, "Do you know what this is for?"
"Uh, no?" I replied.
"Today is Saint Barbora's Day and in the old days it was a tradition that you cut a branch from a tree and if it--"
"Yes, if it buds by Christmas, you will be married in the next year."

I looked at the branch and then paused for a second.
"Wait, this branch is for me? Everyone else is married!"
"Yes, and the children are too young. So it is your branch. If you have many boyfriends, you cut one branch for each of them and put a tag on it. Jana said she doesn't know how many you have so maybe we should cut a lot."
Jana walked into the conversation at this point.
"Oh yes, it is your branch. If it buds, we need to know will it be a Czech or an American."
"Well, we could always cut another one and put flags on each," I suggested jokingly. Yet, when I came back on Monday, there was a second little branch in the cup. So, I added the flags. The odds are stacked against the American branch but, what can I say? If I marry a Czech, I can get citizenship!

Today, a four-year-old student of mine was decorating my branch and when it was too heavily laden with decorations, Jana and I feared it might break. She explained to him, "This branch needs to bud so that Colleen can marry a nice, handsome Czech boy."
"Like me?" he asked.

I love my job.

Yesterday, I went to a small Christmas pageant with my students. Part of the Christmas season here is, which I alluded to last time, Sv. Mikuláš Day. On 5 Dec., the Czechs go all out for Sv. Mikuláš. He is kind of Saint Nicholas and has many similarities to Santa Claus. On 5 Dec., he comes to your house with an angel and a devil. If you are a good child, you sing a song and the angel gives you some kind of treat--candy or a gift. If you are a bad child, the devil puts you in a sack and takes you to hell. Sv. Mikuláš wears a tall pointy hat with a cross and carries a book with the names of good and bad children (a bit classier than Santa Claus' list). There are some differences in the portrayal of the devil and angel than in American iconography. The angel doesn't always have a halo, often just a star on her forehead. The devil is not a red beast, he's usually black with red horns. He may or may not have cloven hooves. He has a tail (more like an animal's than a devil's) and chains. He wears dirty clothes. I think it's actually more frightening than the less-believable American devil.

What is truly crazy is that parents actually pay people to come to their houses and scare the be-Jesus out of their children. I've heard tales of my friends peeing themselves as small children when the devil came to their door with Sv. Mikuláš and the angel. But when you're an adult, it's a wonderful holiday! It's an excuse to dress up (which I did!) and something you can hold over children's heads. "Be good! Don't you know who is coming this weekend?!" Getting taken to hell or getting coal in your stocking, which is a more effective threat?

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