A Local’s Guide to St. Nicholas (Mikuláš) Day in Prague
Should you find yourself in Prague on December 5 as night starts to fall, the chances are that you will notice groups of angels and devils scaring children out of their wits. But don’t worry, this is not a nightmare, it is only Mikuláš – a quirky Czech holiday with a long tradition in our country.
Who is this Mikuláš guy?
Mikuláš, or St. Nicholas in English, is a wise old man dressed in a white bishops gown. He has a very long white beard and wears a tall red bishop’s hat. He usually has an angel and a devil with him, who join him on his journey through the centre of the city. In smaller towns they also go from house to house, visiting only the houses with small children. The main duty of St. Nicholas is to make sure that the children had behaved well throughout the year. The good children get treats such as fruit, nuts and other small presents. But, to get the treats, they have to do a little performance, such as singing, reciting a poem or even playing a musical instrument. If they have misbehaved during the year, they get nothing but a piece of coal, a potato , or even threats that the devil will take them to hell. Of course, children are often cowering with terror when they hear about this. To make sure the devil isn’t gonna put them inside his sandbag and take them with him, they promise to behave better next year.
A rather bizarre and terrifying tradition, you might think, and so does the Daily Mirror, where Mikuláš tops the list of the scariest Christmas traditions in the world. But the truth is that Czech children adore this holiday and I think you would too, once you find out a bit more about it.
First of all, does this little performance remind you of something? Santa maybe? Well, yes, of course! Both Mikuláš and Santa were inspired by the same historical person. Saint Nicholas of Myra, who was born in the 3rd century in Greece, is the source of many Christmas legends throughout the world. Nicholas was famous for his generosity to the needy, as a defender of the Christian faith, and a savior of the unjustly accused. He also had a reputation for gift giving and developing the moral values of children. No wonder he became the patron of children and those in need!
Santa Claus evolved from Dutch St. Nicholas customs. In Dutch tradition, he is called Sinterklaas, and comes on a steam boat all the way from Spain bringing exotic fruits such as oranges and pomegranates. He keeps his presents in a big brown bag and gives it to children that were good throughout the year. If the children have behaved badly, they are taken by his companion, Zwarte Piet or, Black Pete. The Dutch brought this tradition with them to America, where it spread and turned into the jolly old Santa we all know and love today. Here, in Central Europe it evolved in a slightly different direction, so Mikuláš is connected with the start of the Advent but not with Christmas Eve. The Christmas gifts are actually brought by Ježíšek, the little baby Jesus (yes, you read it right!) So now you see why Czech children love Mikuláš – they get presents not once, but twice! What is not to love there?
If you are in Prague on this day with your kids encourage them to sing a song or even Christmas carols! I’m sure the angel will be delighted to hear a performance of “Jingle Bells,” and will reward them with nice treats.
Tip: You can spot the angels with the best treats and head to them. Of course, there is no limit to this adventure, it’s a bit like trick-and-treating and I am sure your children will have a blast and get a full bag of treats! Also, you could use the devil to give them a little lesson if they have been misbehaving.
Mikuláš events around Prague
Old Town Square
On Thursday, as the night starts to fall, the Old Town Square will be swarmed with supernatural beings. From white clad angels with beautiful halos and silk gowns, to filthy devils rattling with their chains as they stomp about. The Mikuláš event is a really a big deal as it is organised by the municipality of Prague. It is also a part of the world famous Old Town Square Christmas market, so basically, it offers fun for everyone, young and old. For children, there are the gifts, and for the grown ups, the mulled wine and mead. It’s hard to say no to such a perfect combination. If you want to find out more about the Christmas markets in Prague, don’t miss our Merry Markets Christmas Tour, we will take you to places only locals know!
Location: Old Town Square, 4pm- 6pm
Imagine spending your afternoon on a quaint little square just off the Charles Bridge, with a beautiful view of the riverside? Well, this is Kampa park for you! There is a small local Christmas market that offers everything you need for Christmas. As a plus, there will be a Mikuláš event for children, as well as the lighting of the Kampa Christmas tree, which is scheduled for 5pm. If you want to get away from the crowds, this is the place to be! It’s small, it’s local and it’s absolutely romantic.
Address: Kampa, Praha 1 – Malá Strana, 110 00
Devils at Čertovka (Čerti na Čertovce)
The Devils at Čertovka event is yet another sensational Mikuláš event you shouldn’t miss. Prague Venice in cooperation with the Museum of Prague Ghosts and Legends (of course we have a museum about ghosts!) has prepared their traditional devilish cruises. The Vltava shores will be ablaze with devils races, but you and your children will be safe inside the wooden boats.
The first ship sails at 5pm from the Judith underground dock (Křižovnické náměstí No. 3). During the thirty-minute cruise, the devils will tell numerous spooky tales. You will also meet St. Nicholas himself, who will, of course, reward the good children.
TIP: Even though it will be in Czech, the river cruise will be a great adventure for you and your children!Also, on the eve of the of St. Nicholas Day, the Charles Bridge Museum will be open for a symbolic price of 20 CZK, which is less than a euro. There is an exhibition of unique creches made of straw and other unusual materials throughout all December, so this is your chance to see it almost for free.
Click here to make reservations.
340 CZK (13 EUR) / adult
150 CZK (6 EUR) / children up to 14 years
Children under 2 years / free
Address: Pražské Benátky, Křižovnické náměstí 191/3, Praha 1 – Staré Město, 11000
If you come to Prague and don’t visit Bokovka, you are missing out big time. It is a true oasis of peace, even though it’s located in the crowded city centre. The quiet yard surrounded by renaissance balconies literally transports you back to the times of the famous Czech kings and queens. And don’t get me started on the wines…In any case, this place will become even more magical for Mikuláš. Apart from the traditional holiday trio, there will be freshly grilled hot-dogs and sausages, mulled wine and a type of beer called Čert (Devil) specially brewed for the occasion by Matuška Brewery (one of the best breweries in the Czech Republic).
Address:Dlouhá 37, 110 00 Prague, Czech Republic, 4pm-9pm
Experiencing St. Nicholas Day in Prague means soaking in the local Czech traditions, and I think it’s the recipe for an afternoon well spent that you will cherish forever.
December 3, 2019