Today is MikulÃ¡Å¡, or St. Nicholas Day, the real kickoff of the Christmas season in the Czech Republic. Sort of a cross between Halloween and Christmas, the streets are full of people dressed in costumes and families taking their children to meet the people in costumes.
There are three characters children encounter on MikulÃ¡Å¡:
St. Nicholas, the guy in the beard and papal mitre, who acts as an impartial judge and hander-outer of presents and sweets;
A devil, who sort of works like a prosecuting attorney, trying to argue that he should take the kid straight to hell, or at least that he should give the kid a lump of coal or a potato;
An angel, who works like a defense attorney, arguing that the kid should get lots of presents.
St. Nicholas usually compromises and asks the kid to either recite a poem or sing a song, and if he does, then he hands out candy or small presents.
While it has the potential for being harmless fun, I saw quite a few kids pretty deeply freaked out by the whole process. Usually it’s the devils who get out of hand, or maybe it’s the Sisyphean nature of the evening, where you meet these three again and again and again, each time reciting a poem or singing a song.
The scariest aspect of the day is the fact that it’s your life on trial, with the stakes potentially involving eternal damnation on one side, or a piece of hard candy on the other. With a downside like that and a payoff like that, it’s no wonder a lot of kids don’t like the day.
Today’s Lidovky.cz has an article saying that half of all Czech children who stutter do so following a traumatic experience on St. Nicholas’ Day.
What’s worse is when parents arrange a home visit by these three; armed with lots of information beforehand, the angel and devil are able to argue the kid’s case in greater detail.
This can be either terrifying or funny, depending. One year a friend of mine peed his pants in fear. The next year, though, he had his revenge, as he noticed that the devil wore the exact same shoes as his neighbor one floor below and called bullshit on the entire process.