Habits and customs
EasterVelikonoce: On Easter Monday it is customary for guys to slightly spank girls and women with a wicker stick with colourful ribbons at the end pomlázka, in the hope that the girls and women will in turn give them coloured eggs, candy or drinks. Obviously tourists are often but not always exempt.
Witch BurningPálení čarodějnic or Night of Witches Čarodějnice: On the last April evening, bonfires are lit around the country. "Witch" figurines, as a symbol of evil, are made and burned in the fire. This is the reinterpretation of the old pagan festival Beltane influenced by Christian inquisition. Because probably most Czechs would prefer the witches over the inquisitors, in many fires no witches are burnt, and the feast is celebrated in a more original pagan way - witches are those who should celebrate the night, not be burnt. It doesn't stop jokes like "Honey, hide or you will be burnt tonight!".
Last RingingPoslední zvonění is a traditional celebration of the end of the last year at a high school. It is celebrated usually in late April or early May, a week or more before the final exams maturita take place the time may be different in different schools. Students get a free day and usually do silly things in silly costumes. They go to the streets and collect money from people passing by, sometimes threatening them with water, writing on their faces with a lipstick or spraying them with perfume. The collected money is used at a party after the exams.
Feast of St. Mikuláš (St. Nicolaus, Santa Claus), Dec. 5On this day, St. Mikuláš roams about with his consorts, an angel and a devil. He gives small presents and candy to children to reward them for their good behaviour throughout the year, while the devil chastises children for their wrongdoings over the course of the year and gives them potatoes, coal or sometimes spankings as a punishment. Old Town Square in Prague is a great place to watch the festivities.
ChristmasVánoce: Czechs begin celebrating this holiday on Christmas Eve and continue to celebrate until the 26th the Feast of Stephen. Presents are placed under a Christmas tree by Ježíšek (The Baby Jesus as little children believe) and taken after dinner on Christmas Eve. Potato salad and carp is a traditional Christmas meal, and for this reason one can see live carp being sold out of huge tanks throughout the streets of Czech cities and towns just before Christmas.
The Czech Republic is not a large country but has a rich and eventful history. From time immemorial Czechs, Germans, Jews and Slovaks, as well as Italian stonemasons and stucco workers, French tradesmen and deserters from Napoleon’s army have all lived and worked here, all influencing one another. For centuries they jointly cultivated their land, creating works that still command our respect and admiration today. It is thanks to their inventiveness and skill that this small country is graced with hundreds of ancient castles, monasteries and stately mansions, and even entire towns that give the impression of being comprehensive artifacts. The Czech Republic contains a vast of amount of architectural treasure and has beautiful forests and mountains to match.
The Czech region was inhabited by Celtic tribe Boii after which Bohemia is named for the first four centuries of the common era. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Celts gave way to Germanic tribes. Another four centuries later, Slavs arrived and, in the 9th century, they founded the Great Moravian Empire, stretching from contemporary Germany to Ukraine. After the fall of Great Moravia, the Bohemian Kingdom was formed, creating a territorial unit called the Lands of the Bohemian Crown which was for most of its history almost identical to the modern Czechia. From 11th to 14th century, massive German colonization of then-unpopulated parts of the kingdom, mostly around borders, occured known in Germany as Ostsiedlung. The rise of the Habsburgs led to the Bohemian Kingdom becoming a part of the Austrian Empire, and later Austria-Hungary.
After the World War I and the fall of Austria-Hungary, the closely related nations of Czechs and Slovaks merged together to form the new state of Czechoslovakia. During the interwar years, the new country managed to remain the only democracy in the region but strong centralization and nationalism resulted in poor relationship with the German 20% of the overall population, more than Slovaks and Hungarian minorities that was used by Hitler and Horty as a pretext to annex parts of the country just before the outbreak of WWII, at which time Slovakia was forced to secede. The remainder became a protectorate of the German Empire, brutally occupied during the war.
After World War II, Czechoslovakia expelled most of its Germans and Hungarians by force. The country emerged from the war more or less intact because it avoided the fate of the massive air bombardments and heavy battles that reduced the neighbouring countries to ruins. However, the country fell within the Soviet sphere of influence, Communist party take full control of the state and remained so by force until 1989.
At the beginning of the 1950s, massive and numerous Soviet-inspired show trial monsterprocesses with “subvertive conspiratorial elements” took place, the commonly known being the one that sentenced Milada Horáková to death. In 1968, an invasion by Warsaw Pact armies ended the efforts of the country's leaders to liberalize the country and create so called “socialism with a human face”. Anti-Soviet demonstrations of the following year ushered in a period of harsh repression and conservatism, called normalization. In November 1989, brutal actions by the police resulted in massive peaceful demonstrations that toppled the Communist government during the final days of the year, in a Velvet Revolution.
On 1 January 1993, the country peacefully dissolved in a “velvet divorce” into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is a member of NATO since 1999 and EU since 2004.
The Czech flag is the same one formerly used by Czechoslovakia, adopted in 1920.
Although the modern adjective bohemian refers to Bohemia, that usage was based on a broad stereotype and also a poor grasp of geography, so don't expect the Bohemians you meet to be nomadic or anti-conventional artistic/literary bohemians, or to see anything out of Puccini's "La Bohème". And no, Bohemian Rhapsody its lyrics sprinkled with Italian and Arabic is not a local anthem!
So the word Bohemia/Bohemian came from the name of the Celtic tribe Boii. The term Bohemian had ended up meaning more or less Czech by the end of the 19th Century with the awakening of Slavic nationalism. However, it was also used to refer to any inhabitant of Bohemia, including the vast number of Germans that used to inhabit the region until the end months of WWII.
Moravia, along with Bohemia the other half of the Czech Republic, was among the first regions of continental Europe to undergo the Industrial Revolution; however it did not experience the mass urbanisation of Bohemia. The region is therefore still home to gorgeous vineyards, orchards, fields full of "organic" produce, and filled with scenic mountain vistas and cute little villages. Even the regional capital, Brno, is renowned for its small town charm. There is an extremely extensive rail system, and the region contains historic factories such as Zbrojovka Brno weapons and the Baťa factory in Zlín shoes.
The dialects of Czech spoken in Moravia are slightly different from those spoken in Bohemia, particularly in Prague. Moravians pride themselves on their dialect and learning a few stereotypical regionalisms may go down well or terribly, depending on just what it is you think you're saying and what you end up saying.
The region's strategic location at the Moravian Gate a pass through the imposing mountain ranges of Central Europe has led to a confluence of a great amount of history.
Opava is a former capital of Silesia.