The 2012 festive season is here and several of the city’s squares play host to traditional Christmas markets.
Eat, drink and be merry!
The main reason to visit the markets is the food and drink you can enjoy there. At all of the markets listed here you should find stalls selling hot alcoholic drinks of various kinds – mulled wine (svařák), warm honey-wine (medovina) and grog (a blend of Czech ‘domestic’ rum and hot water and sugar). If drinking on an empty stomach doesn’t suit, then get some of the typical market foods such as roasted chestnuts, smoked Prague ham, sausages or indulge your sweet tooth with pancakes (palačinky) or some Czech gingerbread (perník).
The story of the Old Town Square Christmas Tree
This year’s tree for Old Town Square is a 28 metre tall, approximately 90 year old spruce from the forest of Prince Jerome Colloredo–Mansfeld, whose family had their lands restituted to them in the 90s. Czech news site Novinky.cz has a video of the tree being cut down and lifted onto the 720 HP American-made juggernaut for its journey to Prague.
Shopping the markets for authentic souvenirs can be a bit hit & miss, as some stalls hawk factory-produced trinkets whilst others are more forthright in their approach, selling handmade Christmas tree ornaments and the like.
Where (and when) to find the markets
Old Town Square
The market runs till the 1st of January. All the stalls are open from 10am to 10pm. Stalls serving food and drink can be open till midnight. By far Prague’s largest Christmas market, there’s also a stage where folk music and dancing performances take place.
The pedestrian area at the bottom of Wenceslas Square is where you’ll find another small Christmas market running much later, till January 13th.
In front of the Celnice building there will be a small market with the usual array of stalls. The market will run from November 25th to December 24th.
Out of the centre
Prague 2 and 3 aren’t left out of the action, Náměstí Míru (Prague 2)’s market starts earlier than most, on the the 20th of November and runs to the 24th of December. Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad in Prague 3 usually also has a market too, also on till the 24th of December.
What to watch out for
As with anywhere there are large crowds and lots of tourists, be aware of your valuables. Check your change at stalls, and make sure you understand in your own currency how much you’re paying for anything you buy. One more thing – if you’re visiting one of these markets just a few days before Christmas, don’t be alarmed by the large tubs full of icy water and live carp. That’s the traditional Czech christmas dinner. People can choose to take the fish home dead or alive, where it will likely be kept in the bathtub till it’s time to prepare it.
Here for Christmas?
If you’re in town for Christmas itself, bear in mind that almost everything will be closed from midday on the 24th and for most of the 25th, so unless you’ve made arrangements to eat at one of the Prague restaurants or hotels offering a special Christmas menu , you’ll want to get your shopping done before then. Czechs celebrate Christmas with their families on the evening of the 24th, then go out with friends on the evening 25th.