Christmas in an Agnostic Nation

The Czech Republic is one of the most atheistic/agnostic countries in the world. Yet, they embrace Christmas. That includes the tree, St. Nick (St. Mikuláš), and even a big focus on making wreaths with candles to light for the four Sundays of advent. I love this contradiction, I admit!

Christmas markets are a big thing all across Europe.  The Czechs tell me this wasn’t always the case; it all started with the Germans. Damn them for doing up the holidays.  When I tell people that this is not a thing in the U.S. it is sort of met with incredulity.  I must agree: a missed capitalist opportunity seems so…un-American.

The Prague Christmas market is pretty much unparalleled in terms of dramatic presentation and beauty.

Prague Old Town Market

But I’m sorry old-town Prague: you’re not the best for variety nor authenticity. Trying to find a gift that isn’t embossed with “Prague” or “Praha” can be a challenge. And the ever-so-popular svařené vánoce punč (hot Christmas wine with extra flavors) – mulled wine – is so standardized that it is exactly the same in every stall. Same label, same price, same flavor. But come to Brno, or Olomouc, or Ostrava, or what I will talk about more here, the small Moravian town of Kravaře, and you’ll find everyone is selling their own concoctions of hot drinks of varying flavors, potencies, and prices. And the gifts? No “Ostrava” embossed on your hats or Christmas ornaments.

Here in Ostrava, the Christmas market is in the center of town, a few minutes from where I live, from where I shop for groceries, from where I work. So I confess, I go there pretty much every single day. The lights, the cheerful crowd (but not too crowded and no tourists!), the music, make me want to linger.

Me in Ostrava at the Christmas market.


I was so fortunate that Monika invited me to what she called an authentic Czech Christmas market. It was a drive out of town, just shy of Opava, to the town of Kravaře and the market was located at, well, you guessed it: a castle. Of course. For lunch I had a traditional Czech lunch: a thick slab of buttered bread, Olomouc cheese, red onion, paprika, and tomatoes, which made me very happy. I drank some mead homemade by folks who have their own bees, and ate locally-made cheese.

The sweet treats were homemade and unpackaged. I had one of those white cupcakes – the cake was caramel-flavored and so so fresh. Most of the gifts for sale were locally made crafts. The castle had live music but instead of a big stage and giant speakers, it was a brass band. The halls were tastefully festive with string lights and flowers. And their “ferris wheel” was, well, just look at the photo.




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