Prague Christmas Markets » December 1, 2019 to January 6, 2020 The Prague Christmas markets – Vanocni trh – are open daily at the Old Town Square & Wenceslas Square. A ‘winter wonderland’ awaits, as visitors soak up the festive atmosphere, browse the stalls and enjoy Christmas carols, hearty food & hot wine.
Christmas markets 2019 :
Old Town square – December 1st 2019 to January 6th 2020 – open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (food stands till 12pm)
Wenceslas Square – December 1st 2019 to January 6th 2020 – open from from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m (food stands till 12pm)
Republic Square – December 1st to December 30th 2019 – 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Prague Castle – November 23rd 2019 to January 6th 2020 – open from 9 am to 6 pm from Mon – Thurs + 9 am to 7 pm Fri to Sun.
Peace Square – November 20th to December 24th 2019 – from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The main markets are held at the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square (5 minutes walk from each other), with smaller markets at Republic Square and Havel’s market. The Prague Christmas markets are open daily, including on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
The Christmas markets at the Old Town Square have an animals stable, where children can stroke sheep, goats and a donkey. And there is a large Bethlehem scene depicting Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and the Three Kings in a wooden stable. The most popular Christmas Market in the Czech Republic is the internationally renowned market in Prague. Czech Christmas Markets are to be found on a smaller scale in other locations around the country, but they are smaller and much shorter in duration. The Xmas Markets in the Czech Republic, particularly the Prague Market, have a fantastic atmosphere.
The Prague Christmas markets are not just about shopping. You can also observe traditional Czech foods being made, and sample all manner of local food and drink. Large hams are roasted on spits. Traditional Czech pastries are prepared in front of you, such as ‘Trdelník’ – a hot, sugar coated pastry. Plus there are terribly unhealthy, but wonderfully tasty, barbequed sausages. To accompany the food, there are Czech beers like Pilsner Urquell and various warm drinks on offer. Outdoor Christmas shopping is so much nicer with a cup of hot wine (svarené víno or svarák) in your hand!
Prague Christmas Market brings locals and visitors together. A Christmas Market in Prague is an exceptional experience and takes place at the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. Prague Xmas Market brings out the festive spirit in everyone.
- Old Town Square (Starom?stské nám?stí) – December 1, 2019 to January 6, 2020 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., food stands 10 a.m. – midnight
- Wenceslas Square (Václavské nám?stí) – December 1, 2019 to January 6, 2020 – 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., food stands 10 a.m. – midnight
- Havel Market (Havelské tržišt?) –
- Republic Square (Nám?stí Republiky) – December 1 to December 30, 2019
- Peace Square (Nám?stí Míru) – November 20 to December 24, 2019 – 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. daily
- Holešovice Exhibition Grounds (Výstavišt? Holešovice) – 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily
- Bethlehem scene and animals – Old Town Square: . Daily 10:00-22:00.
- Children’s Wooden Cabin – Old Town Square: . Mon-Fri 15:00-19:00. Sat-Sun 10:00-19:00.
- Puppet Theatre – Old Town Square: . Mon-Fri 17:00. Sat-Sun 15:00 & 17:00.
The Christmas spirit can be felt from the onset of advent, which starts the first advent Sunday before Christmas Eve. . Advent (adventus in Latin) means the “arrival”. This is a time of strict fasting, where no joy, dance or singing is permitted. As can be seen from the name, its origins are purely religious. However, in the past, there were times of caroling with folk masks – a combination of old pagan traditions with the religious ban on having a good time. People were not supposed to eat meat, with the exception of fish. Advent fasting ended with the arrival of the first star on Christmas Eve. The tradition of lighting the four candles on an advent wreath is very common now. With the candle light symbolizing the arrival of Christ. Children now get a chocolate advent calendar which makes it easy for them to count the days until Christmas Eve.
During advent, towns put up Christmas trees and shop windows are decorated in traditional themes. The largest Christmas trees in the country can be found in Prague in the Old Town Square and at the Prague Castle, where Christmas carols and songs are sung. Boxes for charity purposes are usually placed under these trees. The historic districts of towns throughout the country host Christmas markets where traditional Christmas items can be found – Christmas decorations: straw, wooden, glass, gingerbread, etc. as well as candles, sparklers, nativity scenes, advent wreaths, ceramics, Christmas cards, toys, sweets, mistletoe, chocolate decorations, traditional Christmas dough decorations, etc. There are also demonstrations of traditional folk crafts – blacksmiths, glassmakers, woodcarvers and makers of holiday decorations.
The first Christmas tree, then called The Christmas Tree of the Republic, appeared in the Old Town Square on 20 December 1925. Under the auspices of the city charity collections took place there every year until 1941. After the WWII the tradition was restored for a short time, but in the early fifties it was cancelled. The first post-Velvet revolution Christmas tree in the Old Town Square appeared in 1992. The lighting ceremony usually takes place on the last Saturday of November and remains illuminated until the 1st of January.
The evening before St Nicholas Day, December 5, St Nicholas strolls around the city, accompanied by an Angel and a Devil, visiting children and handing out presents. First, he asks the children whether they have been good and if not, they must promise they will be better next year. In Central Europe, there is no association of this St Nicholas with the Western character of St Nicolaus, also known as Santa Claus (like in England, USA, Sweden or elsewhere) who brings presents at Christmas. The St Nicholas tradition is based on the legend of St Nicholas, a bishop who lived in the 4th century in Asia Minor and was renowned for his religious life and charity. St Nicholas gives presents in all Slavic countries. This tradition became very popular and the character of St Nicholas, dressed in a long coat with a crosier in his hand, is now always accompanied by a devil and an angel, representing the antimony of good and evil.
Christmas trees are usually decorated on Christmas Eve, December 24, or earlier in some families. Nativity scenes are arranged, Christmas presents are wrapped and preparations for Christmas dinner are made. The Czech traditional Christmas dinner consists of fish soup, breaded fried carp fillets and potato salad. As the Christmas menu varies from region to region as well as family to family, there are indeed a whole host of recipes used. Tourists can also enjoy the Czech Christmas atmosphere as most of the restaurants and hotels offer traditional Czech Christmas meals.
The tradition of decorating Christmas trees is not very old in the Czech Republic. Legend has it that the first Christmas tree in Prague was erected for Christmas in 1812 at the Liben Chateau by the director of the Theater of the Estates J. K. Liebich for his guests. Soon after, the Czech aristocracy and wealthy townspeople followed his lead and in the 1840, the tradition of Christmas tree decorating was wide-spread. In the past, trees were decorated with sweets, various folk ornaments made from wood, ginger bread or dough, although nowadays they have mostly been replaced by blown glass and colorful tinsel. However, traditional ornaments made from natural materials are slowly making their comeback including straw ornaments, apples, nuts and the orange fruit of the Chinese lantern plant. Originally, the Christmas tree was hung tip-down, not standing upright. Nowadays, the trees are taken down on the day of the Magi or the following Sunday.
Christmas is a family holiday where no one should stay home alone. That’s why the entire family usually meets at the Christmas dinner table and if someone lives alone, they are invited over by friends or neighbours. The festive dinner is followed by the special moment which children look forward to all year long – unwrapping the presents from under the tree that were left by baby Jesus. To get the presents they wished for, many children write letters to baby Jesus before Christmas. On Christmas Eve, baby Jesus enters each home and leaves presents under the tree. He lights the candles and lights on it and then disappears without being seen just before the Christmas bell rings. Christmas carols are usually sung under the lit Christmas tree. The most famous are: Christ the King is Born (originated in the 15th century), Wanting Him to Fall Asleep (17th century), Merry Feast of Yuletide (late 17th century), Come All Ye Shepherds (from 1847) and Silent Night (originally Austrian from 1818), as well as Czech carols: Pujdem spolu do Betléma (Come Together to Bethlehem), Stojí vrba kosatá, Dej Buh stestí (May God Bless You). At midnight, people usually go to church for J. J. Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass.
The Christmas mood gets underway at the beginning of Advent, the four-week period before Christmas Day (December 25). During Advent, the city is beautifully adorned with holiday decorations. In many places around the city, Christmas trees are lit – a typical symbol of the holiday season. The most famous and largest Christmas tree is traditionally on Old Town Square, where you can also find the largest Christmas market in the city. The first harbinger of Christmas is St. Nicholas Day. On the evening of December 5th, you can often see this protector of children out on Prague’s streets and squares. A devil and an angel usually accompany him as he visits young children and gives them small gifts. Before Christmas, everyone rushes to buy presents so that all their loved ones will have at least one small surprise under the Christmas tree. Big tanks with live carp swimming in them appear on the city streets around December 20th. Every good Czech housewife bakes many different kinds of Christmas cookies, braided buttery Christmas vánocka (a kind of sweet bread), and fragrant apple strudel. On Christmas Eve, December 24th, the whole family eats a special holiday meal together. The menu traditionally includes fish or pea soup, fried carp with potato salad, and Christmas cookies for dessert. After dinner, a bell rings to announce that Baby Jesus has brought the presents, and the family gathers around the festively lit Christmas tree to sing carols and open gifts. Christmas in Prague means plenty of concerts, exhibitions and other cultural events.
Christmas Eve used to be a day of strict fasting in the past, accompanied by a slew of folk traditions from manifold superstitions to poetic customs. Parents promised their children that they would see a golden piglet if they keep the fast. People also believed that there could not be an odd number of people sitting at a Christmas table therefore, they would be sure to invite guests ahead of time. Dinner has always been plentiful with several courses. The old traditional meals included Cerny Kuba (Black Jack or barley and mushroom casserole), pea or lentil soup, fruit, nuts, apples, roasted flat bread. Sometimes people would eat fish but it was not very common, as it was thought to be a meal fit for fasting. Not until the 19th century did carp find its way onto the Czech Christmas table.
Folk traditions and superstitions Christmas Eve according to the popular belief, was an ideal day for performing various folk customs. These fall in three groups: taboos, fortune telling and superstitions concerning fertility and abundance.
Taboos These were most often connected with St Lucille’s Day, Christmas Eve, Holy Innocents and The Magi. Some of them manifest a visible connection with worshiping the souls of the dead. The taboo of sweeping on Christmas Eve was based on the belief that sweeping could injure the souls of dead ancestors, whom may take revenge on the perpetrator later. For the same reason the following activities were also considered taboo: lifting fallen objects, painting walls, milling grain, crushing fruit, pouring water on the courtyard, getting up from a table quickly (this has persisted to this day) and throwing ashes away. Work taboos – spinning, winding, weaving, knitting, sewing, threshing – also to prevent injuries to the souls of the dead. The revenge of these souls could manifest itself later by producing a poor crop (flax, hemp or grain). Holy Innocents (December 28): people were not allowed to wash laundry, because the laundresses would then be tired the following year, as would the livestock and in addition, the livestock would limp. Washing laundry was prohibited because it was believed that this washing was done in the blood of murdered innocents and they, in turn, would then be unhappy. Sewing was banned because this would cause children to have their eyes poked and if the lady of the house were to get up before Christmas dinner was finished, the hens would refuse to sit on their eggs. Christmas Eve is abound with multiple taboos – no buying, selling, borrowing, lending, sneezing or sitting across from a door. These taboos were taken seriously, as no one wanted to invite bad luck, disaster, bad crops or the wrath of the spirits.
Fortune telling Fortune telling has always intrigued people. A seemingly dead twig when put in water in a warm room, sprouted leaves and bloomed. This twig is called “barborka”, because it should be cut from a fruit tree on St Barbara’s Day. Sometimes girls would cut more than one, each representing a different boy and the one which would bloom first would symbolize her future fiancé. There were several superstitions concerning marriage – the shaking of a bush or a fence which would reveal the direction the fiancé would be coming from. The girls would say: “I’m shaking this fence, calling on all my saints. Let the dog bark, where my love is today.” This fortune telling also involved family members. People would place candles in walnut shells and put these “boats” on the water. By what the boat did on the water, or whether the candle would go out or reach the shore, people could see their destiny. Pouring hot lead in water, a person’s future could be foretold for the coming year by the shape the lead would create. If a cross is revealed in the middle of an apple it means illness or death, while a star brings good luck and wealth. People to this day split apples in half for this reason.
Securing fertility and abundance Leftovers from Christmas dinner were buried in the ground and under trees as a sacrifice. Livestock received special treatment too – cows got bread with parsley, rose-hips and butter, so as to have enough milk in the coming year. The farmer would knock on his beehive, so the bees would survive the winter. Poultry – hens would get a mixture of grain, peas and barley to lay more eggs. Roosters and ganders were given garlic to make them brave and healthy. In the morning people would wash in the river or their well to be healthy throughout the year. Burning incense in churches and frankincense at homes were purgative rituals. These are just a selection of customs and superstitions.
Christmas and Easter are two of the main holidays in the Christian year. They are based on the biblical story of the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ. The Czech name for Christmas – Vánoce – indicates a number of holy nights (noc = night). Today however, only three days are widely known – Christmas Eve (December 24), The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ (December 25) and St Stephen’s Day (December 26). The 25th and 26th of December are holidays which are marked by families visiting each other, family lunches and dinners. Usually the traditional Czech roasted goose, duck or turkey with sauerkraut and dumplings is served. People also visit churches where nativity scenes are displayed.
Christmas in Prague is full of concerts, exhibitions and other cultural events. In addition to traditional Czech Christmas carols, you can also indulge in the sound of music from around the world.
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