During the holiday seasons, Christmas markets are very popular in the Czech Republic and of course in other countries. In most of the towns there are squares. In the past, these squares were mainly used for markets. This year, I’ve had the opportunity to go to several. I really love the spirit and the sense of community in these markets. Last weekend on Sunday, Nic and I went to our first Rotary fundraiser with our club. We were selling hot wine at the market in Beroun to fundraise for our Eurotour. We arrived on Saturday and we started making the wine Sunday morning. We also made some hot punch for the children. My Rotary counsellor Lucie works at a hotel so we got to use the kitchen there. We essentially put red wine into a very large pot on the stove. Then, we added a lot of spices and sugar. We also put some oranges in it. As for the child punch, it was the same. It was added to a separate bowl and we added some sugar, apples, and oranges. We then went to the square to set up our station. We had a tent and a banner with our Rotary club name. We prepared everything then started the sale around 3 pm. It was really great because Nic and I were able to speak Czech to each customer. It was very simple and only cost them 30 crowns for the drink. Throughout the night it got very very busy, and our stand was very popular. We were very successful, and it was a very fun evening.
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As we are continuously approaching Christmas, I’m getting to see more and more of this countries traditions and celebrations. Of course, there are many differences, and I’ll most likely write about them in the next two weeks. This week, I experienced one of my biggest culture shocks since I’ve arrived here. On Tuesday, it was St.Nicholas day. In the Czech Republic, each day has a different name of a different saint. This is why name days are celebrated here. Traditionally, this tradition fell on the night of December 5th. In larger cities, you can often run into people dressed as St.Nicholas, Angels (representing good) and Devils (representing evil). You could compare St. Nicholas to dressing like Santa. He has the beard, but he is wearing a very tall hat… sometimes with a cross. Then, he wears a long cloak with white long sleeves. The cloak may be red or dark red with a cross. Then, he is holding a long stick with a spiral at the top or maybe not. All of these characters will walk the streets and ask the kids if they were good or not in the past year. The children will probably be asked to sing a song or recite a poem. If they do this, they will be rewarded with sweets or candy. If not, they are ‘bad’ kids and will be taken away by the Devil’s in sacks and taken to hell. They would also receive coal. In small towns or villages, these characters will visit people’s homes. I have heard that if the children are bad, the devils will take the children into their sacks and move them to another street and leave them there! It is apparently a good incentive to be good throughout the year. The costumes are extremely elaborate and well done… therefore causing fear in the little children. This is a very scary day for children and they will usually perform their songs and poems very well for the angels. At our school and other schools in my town, it has also become a tradition for during the day of the 6th. The three oldest classes in my school got to be dressed as the three characters. They did a very good job… in fact, some people weren’t even recognizable. During this day, they had full permission to go around the school and create chaos. I had been told a little bit about it, but I didn’t think it would be as intense as it was. During my first two classes, nothing happened and I didn’t run into any of these characters. I constantly heard loud screaming in the distance, but nothing happened to me. By the end of the second class I had, I was walking around the school and noticing that pretty much everyone had red and black drawn all over their faces. In the third class that I went to, everyone also had these drawings. The class told me that the devils had come to their class. They came in and drew all over the students faces in paint, lipstick, or other markers. It was just lines and other dashes or just covering the entire face. Additionally, this class had been tied together with zip-ties and left there! My friend had a red scratched up wrist from the zip-ties and it sounded horrible. Other people had been tied up outside the classes by the devils or thrown into other classes. The devils will come into the class (very abruptly) and call out a select number of people and they must do an impossible task. If they fail, they must do something. Another example was taking shots of an unknown liquid (of course non-alcoholic). I thought that I had escaped, because I had made it past my third class without any harm. Unfortunately, in my third class, I realized that none of my classmates had the drawings on their faces. It meant that we were next. I was getting ready to do my presentation (some homework) when there was extremely loud knocking and screaming at the door. A class entered and they just ran around leaving coal everywhere and drawing on people’s faces. No one really moved or cared they just sat there! I was so scared because the characters were actually terrifying! I was at the front of the class so somehow they didn’t really draw on me the first time. (This changed because my classmates realized that I didn’t get caught so they took their facepaint and put it on me lol). One of my classmates had to take off his shirt and pants and was drawn all over. Then he was taken away and I have no clue what happened. I don’t think that they did this to everyone (I don’t know if that would be allowed…) but he is a good friend with the class. They also hid his clothes so by the end of the day he couldn’t find his pants. Then another class came after and once again they banged super hard and loud on the door until they were let in. At this time, people were called up to name some very hard plant in Czech. I was also called up and I was so scared. They wanted me to do Czech tongue twisters. I failed of course so then they took me in a bag outside the class. They simply put me in front of the other students. They tied up the other two to the radiators outside the class with the zip-ties. They didn’t do it to me, and I just returned to the class. The classrooms were all in a mess and one of the doors was even broken downstairs. It was just such a different tradition and I don’t think anything like it would ever be allowed in Canada!!! During the evening, you could see a lot of younger children with the same face paint on. At the square, there was also a little Christmas concert and some activities for children. Everyone had these light up devil ears on and it was really cool.
On Wednesday, I got to go on a school trip to Dresden, Germany. I had flown to Germany, but I’d never actually been there. I didn’t know that I was going to go on the trip until the day before. Since it was only for one day, everything was alright. The trip was with the 05 class, some people from the oldest classes, and some people from C2. Maeve also came! We took a very nice bus and drove approximately three hours there. We went to see some large square that included very beautiful and old buildings. I’ll include some photos. We then went to a hygiene museum. We got some free time here. This museum was full of different medical and informational exhibits. It ranged from dermatology, to racism, to different perfumes, to optics… there were so many interesting things. It was neat because there were some English explanations, so I was able to learn a lot. Afterwards, we went to the Dresden Christmas market, where we got to spend a lot of time. Maeve and I went in and looked around. It was such a beautiful market. There were a lot of traditional German foods being sold at the stands, jewellery, and most popularly-hot wine. This was the same type of wine that I sold last Sunday at a fundraiser with my Rotary club. There was a Ferris wheel and a merry-go-round. It was very well decorated and it was just overall beautiful and fun! After maybe an hour and a half, we decided to get some lunch and we ate some pork in a box with salad. We surprisingly didn’t run into any students, but we found out that they just went to a different mall to shop at a store called Primark. We went in for a bit, but didn’t find anything. It was a really cool experience, and I really enjoyed Dresden!
Finally, I just returned from Christmas Prague. This was the first only Czech inbounds meeting. We arrived to Prague and went to the hotel where we were staying. It was really really great to see the other exchange students again. The first thing we did after arrival was going to get some dinner. Afterwards, we had our language test. This was around eight o’clock when it started. I was very nervous (as I always am with tests). This would be our second language test written in this country but before coming we had to complete three online tests. We were all scared because there are so many aspects to a language and we weren’t too sure what would be on the test. We were told that we would have an hour to complete the test. We started and it wasn’t too bad at first. We had to first fill in questions when we knew the answer. Then we had to fill in sentences using the verb to be. Then the same with the verb to have, maybe about ten questions. Then, we had to match adjectives with a noun. Afterwards, we had to translate sentences from Czech to English. Then match some questions with the answers. The hardest part in my opinion was turning singular sentences into plural. We had to do five of them. I did the worst on this part. After, we had to read a text and answer questions about it, then write ten sentences about our best day in the Czech Republic. It was three pages and I thought that an hour would be good so I could check my work. Unfortunately, they cut our time short to about twenty minutes. It was very very frustrating for me. After this, we had oral testing!!! We had to stand up in front of every exchange student, the district president (Mr. Barak) and other Rotex. I decided to go first to get it over with. We had to introduce ourselves then we were asked 3-4 questions. Mine were simple, but I tried to make my answers as elaborate as I could. Everyone had different levels of Czech, but some people couldn’t introduce themselves. I found out I received a one on the oral test, so I am glad with how my Czech is so far. On the written test, I got the third highest mark of everyone with a 70/78. The second place got 72/78. It was definitely due to very small mistakes that I would’ve been able to fix had I more time. Nic also got a very high score with 68/78 which meant that we both got some of the top marks. I was very proud of us!!
The rest of the weekend was actually nice. We got to go sightseeing around Prague. We saw the castle (which I had already seen), Charles Bridge, and the John Lennon wall (which was actually new to me). We got to go shopping for a few hours at the Palladium and I completed all my Christmas shopping. We then went to the Christmas market in Old Town Square, but it was awful. There was a nice tree and nice stands, but the amount of people was ridiculous. My friend Claudia and I just ended up getting a bubble waffle then sitting at the meeting spot. You couldn’t walk anywhere, and we just wanted to be able to breathe again! Regardless, it was a nice evening. When we got back, we ate dinner then went back to the hotel. We had a brief meeting about traveling forms then we had our Christmas eve. We did our Secret Santa and sang the song we had to learn. Today, we had to say goodbye to the Australian exchange students who are leaving in the next month, so that was sad. It was a good time, and a nice time to see the Christmas Prague!
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