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Spring blog

Easter eggsSpring—spring cleaning, Iranian New Year celebrations, warmish days, cherry blossoms, sunshine…these spring to mind when I think of spring. Now I am living in the northern hemisphere, I am becoming accustomed to the unaccustomed. Easter in spring, Christmas in winter.

And it is not just about the weather—spring customs in the Czech Republic are vastly different from those of my Antipodean homeland.

Let’s start with Easter. Easter for me is hot cross buns on Good Friday, and chocolate eggs on Sunday. My Christian friends mention church services, but they weren’t part of my tradition.

Well, these days chocolate eggs are almost universal. I was, however, rather taken aback when I was first told of the tradition of the pomlázka. For many Easter means Holy Week, but some of the local Czech customs have pagan origins.

Easter Monday sees the male of the species taking the opportunity to ‘beat’ the women, light-heartedly, with a whip made from braided pussywillow twigs, decorated with colourful ribbons. The women, grateful for the whipping, which ensures they will be healthy and young for the next year, reward the men with Easter eggs. These are normally hand decorated, although it seems that the chocolate egg is increasing in popularity.

Burning of the WitchesA little concerned about overtones of domestic violence, I asked some of my Czech women friends how they felt about the tradition. They may be the lucky ones, but all the women I asked assured me that the whippings were ‘light’ and that the tradition was celebrated in a spirit of fun.

Another spring tradition which I found rather strange is the Burning of the Witches. When I think of Europe and witches I recall the unfortunate women who were killed as scapegoats for crimes committed by others, or because of the need to blame someone for poor harvests.

On further investigation I discovered that the annual witch burnings in Prague are not related to witchcraft at all. Rather they are a pagan celebration of the coming of spring and a farewell to the spirits of winter. A Guardian article mentioned that these spirits were inherited by the Czechs from their Slavic ancestors who believed that the ‘forces of darkness’ peaked on 30 April. The burning of a witch, in effigy, is to purge the earth of evil. Each year there is a witch burning, which is visited by family groups, on Kampa Island.

Aside from these unusual customs, spring in Prague has many attractions.

St Matthew’s Fair (Matějská) is held each year at the exhibition grounds in Prague 7. This is the place to visit if you want to ride a rollercoaster, be terrified in the haunted castle or enjoy some fairy floss. Officially the fair runs until 21 April, although it is widely rumoured that it will continue for another two weeks after that.

Prague MarathonIf running is your passion, the Prague Half-Marathon will be held on 5 April (if you haven’t started training, you may have left it a little late). The organisers are expecting 12,500 runners from 82 countries to participate in this event, which opens the running season. Accompanying the half-marathon, and other races later in the season, is the Marathon Music Festival Óčko. I haven’t been able to find a programme for this musical extravaganza, but I’m sure that closer to the date you will hear music sounding in Prague’s streets and squares.

Late May sees the Prague Food Festival, which will present top Prague restaurants and local culinary stars in a three-day celebration of food in the Royal Gardens of Prague Castle (23 to 25 May). The website for this event (http://www.praguefoodfestival.cz/about-festival) promises such delights as “Catfish goulash from Svet Lake, Přeštice pork on the grill, La Pissaladiére—a savoury French pie, raw vegan sushi with fresh wasabi, whipped lamb paté with rosehip jelly, pork cheeks, pork belly, crispy black pudding, green pepper French macaroons, a cardamom mousse and ice cream from Szechuan flowers.”

Prague Spring, now in its 69th year, is an international music festival. It starts in late March and continues until the end of May. It features a host of local and international musicians ranging from solo performers to chamber groups and full orchestras. There is also an international music competition—this year it features oboists and bassoonists. The Castle Guard and Czech Police Band will also be performing in Wallenstein Gardens and Old Town Square.

United Islands Festival

Other dates for your diary are the Prague Chocolate Festival from March 28 to 30, Fun Fatale (a women only contemporary circus) from March 26 to 30, and Magnetic Festival, an electronic dance experience on May 7.

That’s just a quick round up of spring in Prague. Keep an eye out for an update about what’s happening in summer. This year promises to be exciting with visits to the Czech capital by Peter Gabriel and Robbie Williams. Then there’s Prague Museum Night, Prague Proms, United Islands Music Festival and, of course, the regular smorgasbord of ballet and opera performances that are on offer in this wonderful city.

Prague truly is a vibrant artistic city with something for everyone. The only problem is finding enough hours in the day to see everything that’s available.

By Dalice Trost, 1 April 2014

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