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2-12-2020, 00:42 UTC
Czech Christmas
 

Advent

The period of Advent coincides with the commemorative days of a number of saints, which also include a number of other popular customs and superstitions. These customs in all likelihood have their connections to certain Christian beliefs, but many of them still harken back to the beliefs of pagan mythology. Not all of these customs were observed everywhere, of course, and each of them had a number of regional variations.

The first Advent holiday falls on the 30th of November, Saint Andrew's Day. This day - dedicated to one of the twelve apostles - used to be a day for fortune-telling, though today this has become more of a Christmas Eve activity.

One example of this fortune telling was the practice where girls in Silesia would melt lead to read their futures. They would melt it in spoons over a candle, and then quickly pour it into cold water through a key whose teeth formed the shape of a cross. From the form into which the lead hardened they would make predictions on what their next husband would look like: slim, fat, handsome, ugly, hunch-backed, etc. In the shape the lead took, the girls would also look for signs of the various crafts in order to predict the profession of their future bridegroom. Elsewhere, girls would look for the appearance of their future husband in a hole cut in the ice, where shadows revealed his character to them. In still other places, girls would tap on the door of the henhouse, and if a rooster crowed, the girl would be married in the next year. If a hen answered, she would have another year to wait.

The next Advent holiday celebrated was the 4th of December, Saint Barbara's Day. St. Barbara was a martyr from the ancient period of the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. Barbara was the first of the "parading figures" of the season.

The disguises people wore, in which they wandered around rural villages during the evening, really only resembled St. Barbara in name. They were made up of a woman's mask with a white cloak and long, flowing hair, with green wreaths on her head and whisks for punishing children, but also hand-baskets with fruit and nuts for presents. In some regions, Barbara became Bruna, Perchta or Klibna, and in others, people accompanied her disguised as goats, mares or devils. To this day, people cut off cherry twigs on St. Barbara's Day and put them in vases, where they bloom around Christmas Eve, thus signifying luck and hope in the search for a partner for life.

The most popular of the Advent holidays was - and still is - the day of Saint Nicholas (Mikulas), the 6th of December, though it is actually celebrated the evening before. St. Nicholas is actually the only one of the "parading figures" remaining today. Mikulas is primarily a children's holiday, because he delivers presents and also reminds people that the coming of the awaited Baby Jesus is near.

The final Advent holiday is the 13th of December - the day of Saint Lucille, after which began the preparations for the Christmas holidays. Today this day no longer has any meaning, but in the past it was very important. St. Lucille protected against witchcraft and sorcery. The variety of the popular customs in the Czech Lands is well demonstrated by the different "parading figures" with Lucille's name. In some places, Lucille appeared as a mysterious, secretive being, with a white mask, embodying fear and horror. In some places, she also had a long nose or a knife with which she frightened children, threatening to cut open their bellies.

She didn't tap on the window like St. Barbara, but appeared unexpectedly. In different towns Lucille evolved into a more pleasant form, roaming the village disguised as an old, hunch-backed woman with her face concealed by a mask carrying a wooden spoon, teasing the young people.

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