Festivity is a general term covering a festival, feast, or entertainment due to which a particular day breaks away from the everyday life. Already in the seventeenth century the festivity was a unique and regularly repeated or expected event that the inhabitants demanded and welcomed as an occasion to escape from their daily routine, as a form of relax, and personal and gastronomical experience. The festivity featured certain typical sounds, colours, and other symbols. The festivities have always taken place in public space.
Festivities are associated with folk customs, a large segment of traditional culture. They include expressions tied to certain calendar dates (calendar customs, also called annual customs) and to the course of human´s life (family customs, life cycle customs). Customs tied to certain social groups (agrarian customs, vintners´ customs, handicraft customs, customs of miners´, apprentices, journeymen, students…) are a specific field.
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Customs associated with Masopust [Epiphany Season]
The period between the Day of Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, which is a movable feast. The Masopust period comes to its height on days before Ash Wednesday, usually ends in February or March. It has different names as to the regions (masopust, ostatky, fašank, voračky, končiny etc.). In traditional culture, it is a time of weddings, pig slaughtering, dance parties, and door-to-door processions with mask. The last three Masopust days concentrate multiform and rich customs of diverse origin and functions – door-to-door processions, disguises, special foods, dances and dance games, theatre sketches, and dance parties, at which young men, women, children, guilds and clubs showed their abilities and activities. The Masopust period also features student´s dance parties and balls, which are typical for urban culture. Šibřinky developed at the end of the 19th century as a masquerade dance party organized by the Sokol sports club.
Spring and Easter customs
Processions with a dummy named Death (carrying-out of Death, Winter)
A children´s procession with a dummy representing death, winter. It is related to the Passion Sunday. The dummy mostly has a woman´s face, but sometimes also as a man´s (Smrtka, Mařena, and Smrťák). The procession, in which children (and youth in the past), predominantly girls take part, is associated with ceremonial songs and rhymes. The older form of the procession came to its height with the destruction of the dummy and the subsequent treat. The Passion Sunday – in liturgical year, it is a Sunday of Lent, two weeks before Easter.
Door-to-door processions with a small tree called májek (letečko, jedlička)
The door-to-door procession of girls carrying a decorated small tree (májek, letečko, jedlička), which is accompanied by ceremonial songs, rhymes and ditties. It relates mostly to Passion Sunday (it follows the carrying out of the Death or it takes place even before it), in some locations to Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday – a Sunday of Lent one week before Easter.
For Christians, it is the most important feast of the year, devoted to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first spring full moon. It is preceded by the preparatory period of Lent, and its height comes in the Easter (Passion, Holy) Week, which begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday. In traditional culture, Easter is associated with customs related to the arrival of spring and new period. The customs include ritual acts associated with purification (ceremonial washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday), with new fire (burning of Judas on Holy Saturday) and with fresh verdure (pomlázka – a braided whip made of pussy-willow twigs).
Erection of deciduous or coniferous trees with debarked trunks, and the tree crown decorated with ribbons and headscarves, outside girls´ house (individual maypoles) or in the centre of the village (community maypole). The community maypoles are usually decorated with a flag, a dummy (an old man), a bottle of wine etc.; the maypole is then a centre for entertainment and dancing. The tradition says to guard the maypole as the fallen-down maypole means a destroyed prestige of local young men. Maypole erection is a vivid custom in many locations and in most regions. Maypole as a hallmark of May days is visible from far away, and the prestigious struggle to protect is important even today.
At the end of May is associated with humorous, mostly improvised sketches with masked characters according to a traditional scheme (a group coming to cut down and steal the maypole, the other one protecting it). To get the green top of the maypole is a matter of prestige, and for this reason the young men often fight for it.
A moveable church feast at the beginning of summer, celebrated 7 weeks after Easter. The liturgical calendar includes it in Easter cycle.
Whitsunday royal parades – the custom to elect a king and to organize parades, rides and games with the characters of a king and a queen and their cavalcade in different forms and with different names: processions of girls with dances (královničky, králky = little queens, walking with queen), walking parades and horseback rides of boys with the king (chasing after the king, rides of the kings, playing king). Horseback rides with the king around a village has developed into local folklore festivals in Moravia (Troubsko, Kralice, Vlčnov, and Hluk). The rides with the king still include traditional rhymed chants in which the selected young men (chanters) address different persons, remind of events that happened in the village, and invite the onlookers to give them a gift
Corpus Christi customs
Feast of Corpus Christi – in Catholic Church, a solemnity celebrating the real presence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the elements of the Eucharist. It follows the Easter cycle and is celebrated on the ten day after Pentecost.
Bonfires on certain days in the calendar; in traditional culture, these were the Day of St. Phillip and Jacob (30th April), and the Day of St. John the Baptist (24th June). Burning the Witches on 30th April is a still observed tradition in many places in the Czech Republic. It is customary to place a straw dummy of a Witch on a bonfire (a heap of wood, or a conical pile of logs) and to urn it to ash, or to throw birch besoms impregnated with pitch or tar into the air. The customs used to be usually initiated by young people, nowadays it is local organizations that are initiators thereof. The custom offers an occasion for young people or families with children to gather at the bonfire and to have some snack.
A traditional festivity related to the patron saint of a village (or consecration of the local church), associated with feasting and meeting of a wider family and relatives. It plays a societally integrating role. It poses a set of customs, entertainments and games to which special songs, dances and dance games, as well as pastries, ceremonial items, clothing and adornments of the participants relate. It includes common elements (e.g. feasting, festive dishes – usually a roasted goose, traditional dance parties, stalls with tawdry goods, shooting galleries, merry-go-rounds etc.) as well as elements that are typical for a certain region and associated with the traditional role of chasa, young people, especially in Moravia.
Harvest festival (dožatá, obžínky)
A festival upon the end of the harvest, which took place in homesteads, manor farm estates, and agricultural cooperatives. The harvest festival´s principal activity is to hand over a wreath made of corn (to the farmer, the owner or a representative of the farm), which is initiated by people working at the harvest, and the subsequent reception. In addition to harvest festivals as a celebration of people working in the fields after the harvest, we can observe festivals of a wider societal range in the 19th and 20th century. Those festivals were organized by clubs, political parties, and interest associations (communal, association, and national harvest festivals).
Hop harvest festival
A festival associated with the end of hop harvest, accompanied by a procession and handing-over of a wreath made of hop (a stick wrapped in hop etc.), a reception, and a dance party. Festivals of a wider societal type have evolved (hop harvest festival in Žatec).
A festival associated with grape harvest; a large bunch of grapes is carried in the procession; the festival includes old vintner´s customs (closing the vineyards, reading of vintner´s rights). The vintage festival has taken roots even in regions without any wine-growing tradition in the form of a dance party organized in rooms decorated with bunches of grapes and livened up with a humorous penalizing the “thieves” of grapes.
The beginning of the liturgical year, the period of 4 weeks before Christmas. Traditional culture features door-to-door processions with masques, future-telling, magic acts to protect from evil forces, and parades with masked persons disguised as fantasy creatures, saints, animals, humorous figures etc. These parades contain cultural layers of diverse origin and character. Recently the interiors have been decorated with an Advent wreath, which originated in German tradition.
Barborky door-to-door processions
On St. Barbara Eve (4th December), barborky were girls and women wearing white masks. They entered the rooms and commanded the children to pray; then they distributed nuts, dried fruits, gingerbread, and sweet pastries. Today, they distribute cherry-tree branches in some places.
Lucky door-to-door processions
On St. Lucy Even (13th December). Lucky were white-robed women; the character of the masque was completed by the requisites they hold in their hands and by their behaviour (they swept off dust with a feather brush, they beat female spinners´ fingers with the spindle or the stirring spoon, they blew off feathers plucked by women, and they scared children). They did not speak, or they just produced hissing or growling sounds. The door-to-door processions have survived in some places in eastern Moravia.
St. Nicholas door-to-door processions
On St. Nicholas Eve (6th December): the procession mostly consists of Nicholas dressed as a bishop (wearing a cope, a high crown in the form of mitre, a crosier), a devil with a chain (wearing a fur coat, his face is black – coated with soot or covered by a mask), and an angel (wearing a white gown, with wings, a bell and a basket full of gifts). Sometimes, other masked figures accompany the threesome, which originate in much richer St. Nicholas processions in the past (white-robed Death with a scythe, a Jew with bells, a Turk with a sabre, a Negro, a Franciscan, as well as person disguised as animals, such as a goat, a horse, a stork etc.). Currently, it is also children who dress up as St. Nicholas, which is a modern tradition, and it is customary that always more groups go around a village or a town. Traditionally, for the production of the masks mainly items available at home were used.
A religious feast to honour the birth of Jesus Christ. The liturgical calendar understand the Christmas cycle to last from 24th December to 6th January. The Christmas tradition merges old holidays of winter solstice and rituals aimed at prosperity in farming and family in the coming year with Christian ceremonies and legends.
Bethlem flock (ship, bleating)
A Christmas Eve procession of boys with small bells, who imitated ship with their voices. The shepherd played the shepherd horn and cracked with a stick; he was given a gift of food from the farmers. The procession was accompanied by musicians; in this form, the tradition has survived to date as the gathering of citizens, children with bells and musicians (the Moravské Budějovice area)
Young people´s entertainment on the New Year´s Day. It is associated with slicing of a decorated cake given to maidservants after the end of their one-year service. In several villages in eastern Moravia, the cake feast survived until the end of the 20th century as entertainment of adolescents.
Three Magi Day
A religious holiday to honour biblical wise men from the East, who came to Bethlehem to pay homage to Infant Jesus and to give him gold, frankincense and myrrh. The feast is associated with the door-to-door procession of boys performing biblical Three Kings. The boys used to sing a well-known carol in front of houses and they were given in-kind gifts or money; in some places, they used to carry a small Nativity Scene and a rod with a golden star. The Three Magi carolling is a remnant of plays the boys used to perform in houses. Lately, the Catholic Charita has based its Three Kings Collection on this tradition.
Aktualization: 3. 2. 2023