Not to be Outdone by Santa, St. Mikulas brings Cheer to Prague

The New York Times

On the night of Dec. 5, don’t be nervous if you spot a bishop, angel and devil sitting together in a pub in Prague. This is the celebration of St. Mikulas (Nicholas) — a Czech figure similar to Santa Claus — and while primarily an evening for children, it still brings a smile of remembrance to adults’ faces.

St. Mikulas’s feast day is celebrated on Dec. 6, and the tradition is popular in a number of European countries. The festivities here can be traced back to at least the 16th century, and still consist of a bishop with a long beard dressed in white, accompanied by an angel and a devil.

“These trios walk the streets on the evening of Dec. 5th, visiting children and asking them if they have been well-behaved this year,” said Petr Janecek, head of the ethnographic department at the National Museum. “If the answer is yes, and the children are able to please St. Mikulas with a short poem or song; sweets, fruit or another small gift is given to them.”

The angel plays the good part in the ritual, while the devil, of course, plays the bad guy, scaring and teasing the children. Dr. Janecek says that although the Western “Santa Claus” is seen around town more and more, families are still celebrating St. Mikulas.