Celebrate the Patron Saint of the Czech Republic

St. Wenceslas Day in the Czech Republic

Map of Country

Figure 1: Czech Republic and surrounding areas courtesy of LonelyPlanet.com

 

Abstract

St. Wenceslas Day in the Czech Republic is a very strong revitalization movement that promotes the unification of the Czech people. After years of turmoil and political unrest, the Czech people needed something which would bring them together. The celebration of St. Wenceslas was chosen for his superior morality, historical connection to the country, and overall goodness. Celebrated every September 28 th , it is an occasion for the schools and government to temporarily close, and for people to simply “have a day off and maximally drink to health to all the famous and non-famous Vaclavs” (Pechackova 2004). They also celebrate with mass held at churches all over the country, and a new three-day festival held in the southwestern town of Cesky Krumlov , in which goers enjoy plenty of entertainment, dancing, and good food and drink (ckrumlov.cz 2004).

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Additional Image 1   Additional Image 2

Figure 2: Local artisans set up shop during the three day festival celebrating St. Wenceslas in Cesky Krumlov, Cz. Picture courtesy of:

www.ckrumlov.cz/uk/mesto/soucas/t_svvasl.htm

Figure 3: These dumplings are a local tradition during the three day celebration of St. Wenceslas in Cesky Krumlov, Cz. Picture courtesy of:

www.ckrumlov.cz/uk/mesto/soucas/t_svvasl.htm

Introduction

St. Wenceslas Day celebrates the life and death of the patron saint of the Czech Republic , St. Wenceslas (or Vaclav). St. Wenceslas is “a symbol of freedom and resistance to tyranny,” and so his spirit is commemorated each year on September 28 (Pynsent 1994). Though only celebrated for the last five years, its celebration is gaining popularity, as masses are held in churches and cathedrals all over the country “because it's above all a Christian holiday” (Pechackova 2004). Part of this celebration includes a three-day festival in the Czech town of Cesky Krumlov in southwestern Czech Republic . This festival, celebrated September 26-28, is also known as “ the autumn celebration of good food and drink, plenty of games and entertainment” (ckrumlov.cz 2004).

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Context of the Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is a landlocked country in central Europe, surrounded by Austria , Poland , Germany , and Slovakia . It has a population of 10.3 million people, with a population of 1.2 million in its capital of Prague , located in the western part of the country, known as Bohemia (the eastern part of the country is known as Moravia ). At 78,703 sq. km, the Czech Republic a little smaller than the size of South Carolina . The Czech Republic is a parliamentary democracy, with Václav Klaus as its current president and Vladimir Spidla serving as Prime Minister. Major industries in the Czech Republic include machinery, vehicles, ceramics, beer, steel, and cotton, and it recently joined the European Union in May 2004 (mzv.cz 2004).

  Being a landlocked country, the climate is affected by both oceanic and continental regimes, and may vary in the different regions. The average annual temperature is between 42º F and 50º F, but it may be much colder in the mountain regions. The Czech Republic lies within the junction of two mountain ranges: the Czech Highlands in the central part of the country, and the Western Carpathians in the east, and the highest peak is known as Snezka, being 1602 meters above sea level. The main rivers in the east, or Bohemia , are the Labe and the Vltava; the rivers in the west, or Moravia , are the Morava and Dyje. The distinction of where these rivers flow is essentially how the country is divided into Bohemia and Moravia – it is not a political distinction (czech.cz 2004).

  As for the history of the Czech Republic , the Slavs first arrived in Moravia during the end of the 5 th and the beginning of the 6 th century. Christian missionaries arrived in the country during the second half of the 9 th century. The reign of Charles IV from 1346-1378 was the peak of power in the kingdom of Bohemia . In the 15 th century there was a crisis that lead to the Hussite movement, and in 1526, the Habsburg dynasty took over the throne in Bohemia – this lead to the formation of a multi-national empire (czechembassy.org.uk 2004). On October 28, 1918 the independent states of Czechs and Slovaks were founded in the form of Czechoslovakia, and this Independence Day is still commemorated by the Czechs today (Spicer 1937). The country was occupied by Germany from 1939-1945, and was taken over by communists in 1948, which finally fell in November of 1989. And finally, after a split from Czechoslovakia , the Czech Republic was founded on January 1, 1993 (czechembassy.org.uk 2004).

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Origins of St. Wenceslas Day

Wenceslas (or Vaclav) was the duke of Bohemia , the western half of the Czech Republic in which Prague resides, from A.D. 924-929. He was a devout Christian, and because of that he proved to be a friend of the church and a gifted ruler. He was well liked by all under his rule, which is why he is still remembered to this day. Heinrich I the Fowler, a German king, invaded Bohemia and forcibly removed Wenceslas from power, and then had Wenceslas killed. “Virtually from the moment of his death, Wenceslas was considered a martyr and venerated as a saint,” (Bunson 1998). He remains were moved to St. Vitus' Cathedral in Prague , which later became a pilgrimage site, and miracles were often reported at his tomb. The most famous acknowledgement of St. Wenceslas occurs in the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” (Bunson 1998).

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Performance

In celebration of St. Wenceslas, a feast was held beginning in A.D. 985 in Bohemia , and took place for many years to follow (Bunson 1998). In the last five years, the memory of St. Wenceslas has been celebrated in different ways. Most importantly, today it is celebrated as a Christian holiday and masses are held in churches all over the country because of Wenceslas' great devotion to the church. Another commemoration has been the awarding of St. Wenceslas medals in Vladislav's Hall in Prague Castle . The medals (see: Artifact) are handed out to those who serve the nation according to St. Wenceslas' tradition (Pechackova 2004). The most notable celebration is currently the three day festival in Cesky Krumlov, a town in southwestern Czech Republic . It is a less Christian celebration, but even St. Wenceslas would have enjoyed the great food and drink, entertainment, and games in which the entire town of Cesky Krumlov partakes. They encourage as many men and boys named Vaclav, a very popular name, to come out to the celebration, and win prizes for having a famous name (ckrumlov.cz 2004). However, the celebration of this holiday is still not entirely widespread, and in the words of Jana Pechackova, a native of Olomouc, Czech Republic, “We are happy to have a day off and maximally drink to health to all the famous or non-famous Vaclavs if there is an occasion” (Pechackova 2004).

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Artifact

The St. Wenceslas coin is similar to the St. Wenceslas medals that were awarded at St. Vitus' Cathedral in Prague Castle to those who served in the tradition of St. Wenceslas.  http://www.ckrumlov.cz/uk/mesto/soucas/i_svvasl.htm

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Interpretation

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Prognosis for St. Wenceslas Day

The celebration in honor of St. Wenceslas is most certainly gaining popularity in the Czech Republic . The celebration of the day only dates back about five years, so the holiday can only increase in popularity. I find it very unlikely that the celebration would disappear, for the celebration is based on good deeds and living a highly moral life – choosing to discontinue the celebration could possibly make the Czech Republic look poorly in the eyes of other nations. Currently, it is merely a day off of school and work, a time to enjoy friends, drinks, and food. However, the town of Cesky Krumlov has taken that idea one step further, organizing a three-day festival in honor of the Czech Republic 's patron saint. Also considered an autumn festival, it only occurs during the weekend surrounding September 28 th , which is officially St. Wenceslas Day. Cesky Krumlov's festival includes dancing, games, performances, outdoor vendors, food, and much drinking. It is a time for the community to come together and celebrate (ckrumlov.cz 2004). This festival is only the first step in creating many celebrations all over the Czech Republic to honor the memory of St. Wenceslas in years to come.

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Conclusion

The people of the Czech Republic needed a reason to regroup and come together as a nation. They had been occupied by the Germans, especially, so many times in their long history that they had begun to feel that their cultural identity was being compromised or threatened. Celebrating the life of St. Wenceslas, their own patron saint, was a way for the Czechs to remember their past, how strong their country used to be, and importantly to create a sense of community. And that is why new breath has been given to this holiday. As a person who has spent much time in the Czech Republic, I can tell you how amazing it is to be able to see what the country used to be like under its communist regime, and how it is growing into a modern, Western society today. Recalling their past, by way of gathering strength from the memory of St. Wenceslas, will allow them to continue to grow, expand, and mature as a nation. This celebration is a combination of religious aspects, relaxation, and entertainment – all vital components that allow the Czech Republic to regain its strong cultural identity.

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Internet References Cited

  • “A Brief Czech History.” Embassy of the Czech Republic in London . Site updated 2004.
    Site visited September 20, 2004.
    http://www.czechembassy.org.uk/history.htm

    The Embassy in London keeps records of history, economics, government, geographical information, and tourism in the Czech Republic.

  • “General Information: Facts and Figures.” The Embassy of the Czech Republic in Washington , DC . Site updated 2003. Site visited October 19, 2004.
    http://www.mzv.cz/washington/general/general.htm

    The Embassy in Washington, D.C. keeps records of history, economics, government, geographical information, and tourism in the Czech Republic.

  • "The Celebrations of St. Wenceslas in Cesky Krumlov.” Official Information System of the Cesky Krumlov Region. Site updated 2004. Site visited September 18, 2004.
    http://www.ckrumlov.cz/uk/mesto/soucas/i_svvasl.htm 

    The site is local to the town of Cesky Krumlov, and keeps an updated calendar of coming events and historical events, as well as the history of the town.

  • “Weather in the Czech Republic .” Czech.cz. Site updated 2002. Site visited.  September 20, 2004.     
    http://www.czech.cz/index.php?section=1&menu=133

    Czech.cz is a site regarding all aspects of the Czech Republic for every region of the country.  The weather page documents all weather throughout the country.

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Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • Bunson, Matthew, et. al.  Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Saints. Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division. Huntington, Indiana: 1998. pg. 648-9.

  • Pynsent, Robert B. Questions of Identity: Czech and Slovak Ideas of Nationality and Personality. Central European University Press. Budapest: 1994.

  • Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. The Book of Festivals. The Women's Press: New York: 1937.

  • Turner, Victor and Edith. "Religious Celebrations." 1982.

  • Wallace, Anthony F.C. "Nativism and Revivalism." In International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 11. Macmillian and the Free Press: New York.


    Personal Contact:
  • Pechackova, Jana. "Re: St. Wenceslas Day question." Personal Communication - Email. October 12, 2004.

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