Burning of the witches
Every year on April 30, Czechs take to the streets to celebrate a very unusual event, the burning of the witches. While this might sound like a Halloween event, it actually has a very different meaning.
Legend goes, witches can control weather, especially cold weather, so burning a witch (technically, a straw figure that looks like a witch) would weaken the spell and speed up the arrival of warm weather. The actual bonfire is only part of the fun, which also includes a large festival with food stalls, music, beer and warm wine. In Prague, the biggest celebration happens on Kampa Island, and includes a large bonfire, a lantern procession and live entertainment.
Welcome to Easter in Prague, where you can decorate eggs and eat lots of chocolate before getting whipped with a stick. That’s right, one of Easter’s most beloved traditions consists of making or buying a willow rod, colorfully decorated with ribbons and then using that to whip women on their buttocks or thighs. Tradition requires that men do the whipping (which is meant to keep women young and fertile) and women take it (not the other way around), and it’s not rare to see strangers approaching women on the streets to playfully whip them.
If you happen to be walking the streets of Prague on December 5, you might run into St. Nicholas or his companions—an angel and the devil.
Although St. Nicholas wears a tall piece of headgear that resembles a Pope’s hat, he otherwise looks very similar to Santa Claus (which makes the traditions associated with this day all the more bizarre). Simply put, St. Nicholas is out on this day to stop children and ask them if they have been good or bad during the past year. Good kids are rewarded by the angel, with candy or small presents, while bad kids should in theory be put into the devil’s bag and taken to hell. Weirdly enough, parents love frightening their children by telling them the devil is coming to get them, so this is a bizarre holiday full of crying children who eventually will receive presents after being half scared to death.
Christmas food related superstitions
A lot of strange superstitions surround Christmas foods. One common fruit consumed during Christmas is apples. Legend says if you peel an apple and throw the peel over your head onto the floor, it will form the first letter of the name of your future husband. You can also put honey on your cheeks to bring you love in the coming year. Food superstitions are probably connected to a time when people lived mostly off the land and an abundance of food often meant a happy, abundant life.
The Zizkov Masopust parade
Masopust is the Czech name for what we normally think of as carnival. A festivity full of food, wine and merriment, Masopust culminates in a major parade through the city. Although most towns have their own celebrations, Prague has the ultimate masked parade in the Žižkov neighborhood. Masopust is a celebration of giants, oversized carriages, giant papier-mâché heads and masks. It’s all in good fun, but that doesn’t make the bizarre figures any less chilling or puzzling.