Last year I attempted to bring the tradition of St. Mikuláš to Montana as a way of integrating my two worlds. We had the costumes and the small goodies to give away all planned out. I wanted my family to know a little about my husband, Michal’s family traditions as they haven’t been able to come to Prague. Unfortunately Michal got the flu and it didn’t seem wise to cram my whole family in our small cabin.
St. Mikuláš is a special day in the Czech Republic celebrated on December 5th. It marks the ‘name day’ for St. Mikuláš (St Nick), who is the patron saint of children. Each year to mark the start of Christmas festivities, trios of adults roam the streets on the eve of the 5th of Dec dressed as St Nick, an Angel and a Devil. Families can also hire the trio to come to their home. The children must either sing a song or recite a poem to receive either candy from the Angel or be dragged down to hell by the Devil – who carries chains around his neck for that purpose! Over the years, I’ve known parents who use the idea of the devil coming to make their kids behave. So the threat is less about not getting gifts as it is the fear of going to hell. I’ve also witnessed the kids crying when singing their little songs to the trio and the parents standing by laughing. The parents survived the tradition, so their kids will too.
My first party happened to be my first month living in the Czech Republic. I was just this naïve immigrant from Emigrant, Montana trying to figure out my husband’s world. The family thought because our flat was quite empty that it would be a great place to have 30 or so people to entertain in a tradition that I couldn’t yet understand based on Michal’s explanation. He only mentioned that some family members were bringing ‘the costumes’ and others would bring the gifts to be given to the children.
I was really flustered at our first party in Prague when St. Mikuláš (played by Tomáš) asked me to recite a poem too. So standing in front of my new Czech family I said the only poem that stuck in my head from my childhood. My father used to sing this little poem below to each one of us as babies and naturally we all grew up to by pyromaniacs.
Sulpher matches, sulpher matches
With your pretty flaming hair
Quickly strike a sulpher match
And fire is blazing there.
Our big Hans in the night fell down
With a bump that echoed around the town.
Lacking light is wrong at night
And makes a man fall down.