The Ride of the Kings
In the last century, it was still possible to document a ride of the kings almost everywhere in Moravia. Today, the custom only remains preserved in its original form in one municipality – the Moravian Slovak village of Vlčnov. It is performed here in an almost unchanged form with annual regularity. Boys of the village – conscripts – ride on ribboned horses and call out age-old verses in celebration of their king, which also serve as a demand for his bestowal of gifts. The king is a boy age 10–12, who rides in an ancient female folk costume guarded by two aide-de-camps with unsheathed sabers.
The Vlčnov tradition has embellished the ride of kings with the gracefulness of the local folk costume, and with the rich decoration of the royal procession and the folk poetry ringing out in the form of the riders' enunciations. At the same time, it is surrounded by legends, which explain the custom in the context of the war of the Bohemian King George of Poděbrady with the Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus.
The Burning of the Witches and Walpurgis Night
From the Middle Ages, it was believed that days existed when evil forces had greater power than they did at other times. One such day was the night of April 30. The belief in evil forces, which is as old as humanity itself, changed over time into the superstition that the devil could only exercise his power on earth through people – witches and wizards. As a defense against witches, people burned fires in high places. This is a custom of very ancient origin in certain regions.
With the passage of time the annual fires became the “burning of the witches.” Youths set fire to brooms and threw them high, supposedly so that they could see how witches flew on the brooms in the air. At midnight before the feast of St. Phillip and Saint James, i.e. May 1, when evil forces had the power to harm people, it was possible to find numerous treasures. But those seeking them had to defend themselves against the actions of wicked forces. This could be done, for example, by having the flower of a fern on their person.
The tradition of burning the fires has been preserved in Bohemia to this day.
May 1, the time of love
On May 1, a girl should be kissed under a cherry blossom so that she will always be beautiful. Prague lovers head to Petřín hill May 1 in order to leave a flower at the memorial to Karel Hynek Mácha (1810–36), a Czech romantic poet who wrote the poem Máj (May). The poem recounts a tragic love between two young people and it is one of the classics of Czech literature.
FeastsIn the autumn, when all of the harvest had been reaped, it was time for a party to be held. It formerly lasted from Sunday to Thursday and one was invited to it with a cake – or a “zváč” (from the Czech word for “inviter”). There was meat, fowl, cakes and pastries on the table. People ate, drank and were merry , sang and danced. Today, a fair comes to most communities where a feast is held. Besides a sumptuously laid table, festal cakes are baked. These are round in shape and are about 20-25 centimeters in size. They are colorfully garnished and full of poppy seeds, plum jam, cottage cheese, raisins and other ingredients.
All Souls’ Day
Festivals for those who have departed the earth have been held on November1 and 2 since the year 998. In certain communities, a special bread called “dušičky” (which is the same as the Czech word for All Souls’ Day) was baked for beggars, wayfarers and poor people in general.
Today, graves are adorned with flowers, wreaths and lit candles in memory of the dead.
The feast of Saint Barbara, which falls on December 4, used to be connected with a lot of folk customs. The most famous of these was the cutting of cherry sprigs or Barborky. According to popular tradition, a sprig was cut at first light December 4 from a cherry tree that was at least 10 years old, and taken to a house where an unmarried girl lived. If the sprig bloomed on Christmas Eve, it meant that the girl would find a husband in the coming year. If the sprig bloomed earlier, the date of the wedding was brought forward by one month for every day in which it bloomed ahead of time.
Today, Barborky are cut primarily as Christmas decorations for the home.