Number one for English language teachers

Mikulas - 5th December

Even the most confident teacher gets a little paranoid when her students start whispering in Czech, so when Lenka and Dana launch into a third conference at the end of class I start to fidget. Is it my clothes? My hair? Was my lesson indescribably dull? Just as my skin begins breaking into hives, Dana pulls from her purse a St. Nicholas bag.

“This is for you,” she says, “for Mikulaš.” The sixth of December is the feast of Mikulaš, which the Czechs celebrate the night before.
“We don’t know if you were good or bad,” Dana says, and she hands me the bag, which holds two chocolate statuettes: one saint, one devil.

Last year I had my classes brainstorm Mikulaš lexis, ostensibly to improve their vocabulary, but really because I wanted to learn about the holiday. Hell, was a popular response. Devil. Angel. Candy. Chains. Potatoes. Coal. Tears. None of them, I noticed, mentioned saint or bishop, the position for which Mikulaš is celebrated.

Radka and Klara elaborated on the holiday for me. “At night, Mikulaš comes and puts in the socks many good things or maybe, if child is bad, potato or coal or onion. But children are not happy if they get the potato,” Klara said. It strikes me that this Advent grab bag is an apt metaphor for teaching – sweets and potatoes, and the occasional lump of coal. And the devil, I ask? People dress up in trios, they explained – one angel, one devil, one saint – and go to entertain the children. The devil tries to frighten them, the angel pleads on their behalf, and the saint offers clemency to those who can recite a poem or a song. Radka said the parents often let them know how the child’s behavior is. “And maybe if the child is not so well in school, the devil he say, ‘Ah, I know you are not so good at school so maybe I take you to the hell.’”

“You really tell your children they’re going to Hell?” I ask. They nod.
Ho ho ho.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Hi Krisz,

    Thank you for sharing that fact. I just checked and although it started in Hungary it is also celebrated in the Czech Republic, Romania, Poland and Slovenia :-)

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  • Mikulas is not a Czech word but a Hungarian one, and this celebration originates from Hungary. Mikulas comes from the name Miklos.

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