Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

3:18 pm

Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day

As International Students Day, November 17 commemorates the anniversary of the 1939 Nazi storming of the University of Prague after demonstrations against the killing of Jan Opletal and the occupation of Czechoslovakia, and the execution of nine student leaders, over 1200 students sent to concentration camps, and the closing of all Czech universities and colleges.

In the Czech Republic, as Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day, it also marks the beginning of the Velvet Revolution. In 1989, a memorial march in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the first International Students Day was organized. Some 15,000 people came out to take part in the solemn march that led from Slavín cemetery at Vyšehrad and was making its way to Václavské náměstí. They were stopped however on Národní třída by members of the State Security Service, who brutally attacked the marchers. This in turn sparked a series of popular demonstrations from November 19 to late December that resulted in the collapse of the Communist government.

There’s a memorial plaque in an arcade on Národní třída. Today it was completely mobbed by people who had come to leave flowers and candles:

I suppose it’s also in keeping with the theme of the day that there is a demonstration, opposing the planned US radar base today. Bring your own candles.

3:24 am

The Day of Establishment of the Independent Czechoslovak Republic

Today is the 90th anniversary of the establishment of an independent Czechoslovakia. The official website of the Czech Republic has this to say about the holiday:

Exactly one month later (than September 28’s "Day of Czech Statehood"), October 28, perhaps the most important day is remembered, which is associated with the existence of the Czechoslovak Republic itself. In 1918, after several decades of effort of Czechs and Slovaks for recognition of their national rights and the end of the World War I, the independent Czechoslovakia was established, one of the succession states of Austria-Hungary, consisting of Bohemia, Moravia, part of Silesia, Slovakia and Under-Carpathian Russia. On this day each year, the president of the republic, together with eminent state officers, places bunches of flowers on the grave of the first president and the leader of foreign revolt at the time of the World War I, Tomáš G. Masaryk, at the castle in Lány, and also at the monument in Vítkov. In the evening of this day, the president honors eminent personalities of cultural and social life.

Because of the Tuesday holiday, the schools are closed through at least Wednesday (some are closed all week, I’m told), so a lot of people are enjoying long weekends right now.

This doesn’t, alas, apply to English teachers, although we are off today.

Aside from it being a day off, there apparently isn’t much by way of traditions for celebrating this anniversary, although several of the concert halls and theaters are featuring particularly patriotic programs. Municipal House, for example, is playing Smetana’s Má Vlast (My Country) this evening, and his Libuše (an opera about the legendary princess who prophesied glory for the Czech nation) is being sung at Národní Divadlo this afternoon. And so I am off to the opera today.

The Czechs were cheated out of another holiday from work today (and so was I!); it’s the Feast of St. Wenceslas, Václav in Czech, the prince of the Přemyslid dynasty who was killed by his brother, Boleslav. Since Václav is the symbol of Czech statehood, today is the "Day of Czech Statehood" (and it’s under that name that September 28 is a bank holiday).

2:01 pm

The Poor Czechs…

Today is the Day of Slavonic Apostles Cyril and Methodius, and it would be a work holiday if it weren’t a Saturday. And tomorrow’s Jan Hus Day would similarly be a holiday from work if it weren’t a Sunday.

The next holiday on the books is September 28’s Day of Czech Statehood, but that falls on a Sunday this year, so again, no day off of work. There won’t be another work holiday until October 28 and the Day of Establishment of the Independent Czechoslovak Republic.

I observed to one of my students that, in the US, when a holiday falls on a weekend, the corresponding Monday or Friday becomes the work holiday. Her response to that was surprisingly philosophical: "Under Communism, that happened here, too. Now we have more holidays, but we lose the ones that fall on weekends, so in the end, we end up with the same number of days off".

Sts. Cyril and Methodius

While Sts. Cyril and Methodius are credited with being the first to evangelize the Czechs, the feast is more about commemorating the creation of the Slavic Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets and the introduction of literacy, and not so much about the preaching of the Gospels in the Slavonic language by the brothers. The Church, however, does celebrate the feast with a pilgrimage to Velehrad, in Moravia (near Olomouc).

Jan Hus

Jan Hus was a forerunner of Martin Luther, and his complaints with the Church had more to do with abuses of Church teaching and power than with doctrinal disputes. He refused an opportunity to recant and was executed in 1415 for heresy. According to Wikipedia, Pope John Paul II expressed “deep regret for the cruel death inflicted” on Hus and went on to suggest an inquiry as to whether Hus might be cleared of heresy.

Much like St. John of Nepomuk, Jan Hus remains admired by Czechs for his integrity and courage. Old Town Square is home to his memorial:
Jan Hus memorial
And a closeup of the memorial:
Jan Hus memorial closeup

4:24 am

Making bridges

The French don’t do that American thing of transposing holidays to the nearest Monday; instead, they let their holidays fall where the calendar gods intend. But, when a holiday falls midweek, they’ll typically take off the corresponding Monday (and Tuesday if necessary) or Friday (and Thursday) to faire le pont (make a bridge). When you have five weeks of paid vacation time, this kind of bridge building is a lot easier. And so it has been this weekend.

May 1st is Labor Day in France, and it appears that most Parisians who can have built their bridge and gone out of town: the crowds on the metro have diminished, and the markets were relatively empty on Sunday. The markets are packed today, though, although most of the non-food stores (and even a lot of them) are closed for the holiday.

The custom most strongly associated with May 1st in France is buying, and giving, lilies-of-the-valley. This has nothing to do with Labor Day, of course. According to the Wikipedia article that I consulted, the custom of giving lilies-of-the-valley as a good luck token dates back to Charles IX in 1561. Every florist shop has hundreds of little bouquets of these lilies. And, if a little cluster isn’t enough for you, or if you need a hostess gift for May 1, you can buy potted lilies, or elaborate arrangements in which the lilies are grouped with roses or orchids. You also have the option of buying your lilies from street merchants. The Wikipedia article also observes that, on May 1 only, it is permitted for non-florists to sell lilies-of-the-valley. (The implication there of course is that on all other days and with respect to all other flowers, French florists are protected from such amateur competition. Although I remember seeing street merchants selling daffodils for a few weekends at the start of spring, so there are apparently other seasonal exceptions.) I dutifully bought my own handful of lilies, wrapped in a sheet of cellophane that sports the legend "Je porte bonheur" (I bring happiness), to establish my bona fides. In my good deed for the day, I even bought a sheaf of lilies for my neighbor across the hall.

There are two more bridge-building opportunities for the French this month: next Tuesday, May 8, is Victory Day (the date WWII ended in Europe), and Thursday, May 17, is Ascension Thursday.

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