Visitors to Prague wishing to experience the spectacle of Mikulas, head for the Old Town Square from late afternoon. The charming tradition of St. Nicholas falls on the eve of St. Nicholas Day, December 5th, and marks the start of Christmas for the Czech people. If you find yourself walking the streets on that evening, you may run into a group of strange characters in costume: St. Nicholas, the Angel who represents Good, and the Devil who represents Evil. Mikuláš looks a bit like Santa Claus, whose origin was supposedly inspired by St. Nicholas. Surrounding them are a throng of small children, gazing in awe at the characters, as their parents look on with masked grins.
Czech children, raised on stories of Mikulas, are overawed by this spectacle, for they know what to expect. St. Nicholas will be asking each and every one of them if they have been a good child during the past year.
Most children of course say yes, and will be asked to sing a song or recite a short poem, after which they are rewarded with sweets and other treats. But if St. Nicholas suspects they have been naughty, well! Naughty children don’t get sweets, they get a sack of black coal or hard potatoes. If they have been really naughty, they will be placed in the Devil’s sack and sent to hell!
With this thought in mind, small children are understandably terrified of the Devil. So when St. Nicholas and his entourage approach them, they sing their song or recite their poem with great gusto. Needless to say, Mikulas acts as a strong incentive to be good throughout the year!