devilsVsetin, Zlinsky kraj (Czech Republic) – (Butt crack of dawn early on Sunday)  Yeah, I don’t know why I am up so early either. Looking out the window at the apartment complexes I only see one light on, and that’s probably a night light. So the town of Vsetín is mine…all mine for the moment at least. As much as I try and sleep in I still get up early. Maybe it’s my over active mind but I doubt it. Or maybe I’m still bummed about Herschel’s demise on Walking Dead last week. Oops…I should have given a “spoiler alert” before that last statement. Oh well, if you haven’t seen the mid-season finale of the show by now, what exactly are you doing with your time? Going outside? Meeting with family and friends? Having a life? Really? What exactly is more important than a zombie show I ask?

Speaking of zombies and living a life outside of watching TV, my travel companion Susan and I journeyed to the town of Valašské Klobouky on Saturday for their celebration of Mikulas (St. Nicholas). If we had thought ahead of time we would have booked the old steam train from Vsetín to the town, but alas all the seats were taken. We did however find tickets for the trip back home. So all was not lost. The festival celebrates the Czech tradition of St. Nick and Christmas. Dressed up like a bishop with a gown and miter and red cape he is accompanied by angels and devils. There were a number of St. Nicks roaming the town square asking children if they had been good this past year. The kids are supposed to recite a poem or sing a song in exchange for candy and of course should tell Nick they have been good. If St. Nick feels they have been bad they get a lump of coal or if he suspects they had been really bad the past year they could be put in a devils sack and taken to hell. When I heard this story I realized then and there, that Christmas here in the Czech Republic is serious business. My mom always told me to be good or Santa would put a lump of coal in my sock hanging in front of the fireplace but never threatened me with hell. Kids in this country grow up with these stories…maybe that’s why I woke up early this morning. With my 12 year old mind, I am still impressionable. Mall Santa anyone? Bueller?…Bueller??

The town was packed with people from all over and it was hard to move around. All the craft stalls were knee deep in people. I did have a chance to have some outstanding soup in a crowded hall with one of my students from Vsetín. He lives in the town. He seemed to be able to elbow his way through the throngs to the counter for a bowl of sauerkraut and potato soup. I’ve never been a fan of sauerkraut (or mushrooms for that matter)  before I arrived in The Czech Republic but I have to tell you, it was outstanding. Another food prejudice smashed. What’s happening to me? First delicious mushrooms and now sauerkraut soup! Will I ever be able to eat good old American junk food again?

For those of you desperately seeking historical roots of the name “Valašské Klobouky” here is the low down from the town’s web site: According to legend, a long time ago, there was a spring where noblemen from Brumov´s Castle sat down and rested after hunting in the nearby forests. They marked the place with hat on the nearest tree, so they could come back next time. The settlement which was founded here was named after this hat…   So now consider yourselves informed. (by the way Hovězí the town we visited a few weeks ago means “beef”)

The steam train ride home was a trip back in time. The whistle on the train sounded exactly like you’d think a train whistle would sound from those old nickblack a white movies of Eastern Europe. We shared a compartment with two of the cutest 2 and 3 year old girls and their parents and eventually with one of the many St. Nicks and his entourage of devils and angels. The little girls cried when the devils came in. I guess I would too if hell was on the horizon. But when Nick came in and shooed the devils away, he couldn’t have been more gentle with the little ones calming them down. By the time he left he had given the little girls coloring books and sweets. I actually wanted one of the coloring books but as every one knows, I’ve been bad this past year.

Second  Sunday in Advent (light the second candle on your wreath)

Well today is the second Sunday in Advent and a time for rejoicing and a little sadness. Rejoicing because the hope of Christmas and a New Year is just around the corner, and sadness because we lost a great leader in Nelson Mandela. The first reading from today’s liturgy comes from the Prophet Isaiah and it talks about peace. Everyone can encourage reconciliation even when it seems illogical and/or impossible. It can happen. So today I am thinking about Mandela and Pope Francis and all those who speak truth to power.

…but he shall judge the poor with justice,
and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Justice shall be the band around his waist,
and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them. (Is 11 1-10)

So with those thoughts, the sky has lightened a bit and the snow is beginning to fall again. Time to get off my freezing porch, make breakfast and wash some clothes. Have a great week.

and so it goes…