Say the word ‘carnival’ and people usually think of the colourful extravaganzas of Brazil or Venice, but the period leading up to the beginning of lent is celebrated across the world, including the Czech Republic. Here it’s known as “masopust”, which means pretty much the same thing as the Italian “carnevale” – i.e. to refrain from eating meat. Masopust is mostly celebrated in Moravia, but a husband and wife team is trying to resurrect the lavish Prague carnival that was the social event of the year in centuries gone by.
Exactly 20 years ago, Czechs and Slovaks were celebrating their first Christmas for four decades without a hint of official disapproval. While the communists tolerated the trappings of Christmas – with Christmas trees and traditional Czech Christmas carp in abundance – their tolerance of Christian traditions was never more than skin deep. In the 1950s, priests and members of religious orders were often locked up for their beliefs, and the brief reforms of the 1960s were followed by another wave of persecution, following the Soviet-led invasion
Although the Czech Republic is regarded as one of the most atheistic countries in Europe, an opinion survey conducted by the STEM polling agency suggests that 39 percent of Czechs will attend Christmas mass. Thirty-two percent of the population identify themselves as “believers”, with forty percent of those being older than 60.
Every year the start of Advent in late November sees the opening of traditional Christmas markets in the Czech capital, among the most popular the market on the city’s historic Old Town Square. Surrounded by famous medieval architecture, red-roofed stands, decorated with sprigs of evergreen, sell everything from hand-painted baubles to traditional nativity scenes. Open for more than a month, the market features daily programmes such as children’s workshops and concerts in the run-up to Christmas. It also offers a variety of refreshments - a draw
Close to 300,000 Czechs will be spending Christmas abroad, according to a December survey conducted by the company Stem/Mark. The survey also showed that 50 percent of all Czechs could imagine spending Christmas outside of the Czech Republic, and one in eight Czechs dreams of spending Christmas on the beach. A drop in prices for package holidays and a rise in the living standard are cited as the main reasons for the trend.
A survey by the Czech online shopping search engine Heureka.cz and the auction webpage Aukro.cz shows that 95 percent of Czechs shop online for at least part of their Christmas presents. For 46 percent of the customers, lower prices are what make online shops attractive. Convenience was cited as an appeal for 27 percent of online shoppers and 12 percent said that there was more variety of goods to choose from online. Internet shopping has been rising steadily and this year is expected to account for revenue of about 27 billion Czech crowns.
Orange, cinnamon and white-coffee coloured Christmas tree decorations are in vogue this year, the country’s biggest producer of painted glass baubles Vánoční ozdoby DUV-družstvo told the Czech News Agency. A colour referred to as Roman gold is also ‘in’ for Christmas 2009, as are combinations of brown and other colours. Around 30 percent of Vánoční ozdoby DUV-družstvo’s sales are connected to what is in fashion in any given year; the rest of its production is in the traditional silver, gold and red.
Three people were injured at the Christmas market on Prague’s Náměstí Míru on Monday in a fire that burnt down four of the sales stands. None of the injuries were critical. The fire was apparently caused by a gas leak in a pastry stand. The four stands were entirely consumed within eight minutes; two gas cylinders inside them were unscathed, however. Christmas markets officially opened around Prague last Saturday.
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