1/12/2010 To 31/12/2010
When: Dec 2010 (annual)
Where: Around Charles Bridge
Opening Hours: 4pm onwards
In the run-up to Christmas you can catch the original Santa Claus himself as he wanders the streets of Prague, dispensing material justice to children and drinking beer on his Saint`s day. Jolly old saint Nicholas is accompanied by an angel and a devil on his wanderings under the Christmas trees and fireworks of Charles Bridge. The trio represents the three spiritual mechanisms of confession (Nicholas), punishment (the Devil) and reward (the Angel). The Devil metes out coal to the miscreants and rascals of the previous year, while the angel gives (goodie) goodies to the well behaved.
The saint takes to the streets on the eve of his Saint`s day, which falls on the sixth of December every year. The day before is known as `little Christmas` locally.
Saint Nicholas underwent a long and complex series of reinterpretations (not to mention a considerable weight-gain) before becoming the rotund old elfmaster he is today. Originally a resident of Demre in Turkey (where his saint`s day is still celebrated in style), his remains were stolen from Demre in the 11th century by a tema of sailors from Bari (his crypt in the Demre cathedral still has a big hole in the side, made by the seamen when they abducted the body). The anniversary of his arrival in Bari is marked by the `sagra di San Nicola` in May, when the urn containing his remains is taken out and a mysterious healing manna produced by his bones is dealt out to the faithful, who drink it or smear it on their bodies. Weird stuff.
Two recent events contributed to the shape and form of Santa Claus as we know him today. The American artist Thomas Naste drew the prototype of the modern Santa in 1863, for Harper`s Illustrated Weekly, taking the existing folkloric figure and giving it a thick red coat, white bushy beard and a broad belt. He also gave him once and for all the reindeer as a steed, replacing carriages, dogs, camels and all sorts of other weird means of locomotion.
Half a century later, when Coca Cola launched a Christmas advertising campaign in 1931, they commissioned the Swedish artist Haddon Sundblom to draw the figure of Santa. Drawing on the work of Thomas Naste, the Swede gave Santa his final and ultimate form, suspiciously close in colour scheme to the colours of your average Coca Cola bottle.
So much for Santa`s innocent origins: from the beginning he was aligned with the forces of global capitalism. Perhaps this explains a few things about Christmas...