The time of the year is approaching, when many people around the world will celebrate love – Valentineʼs Day. What about the Czechs, do they engage in this celebration? And what other ways of expressing love will you encounter here?
Let me start this little Czech love-guide by a rather bold but justifiable statement – Czechs are very affectionate people and Prague is one of the most romantic places you will ever find. It is also a perfect Valentineʼs Day destination: where else should you search for love than in the heart? In the heart of Europe, of course!
Prague is well known for its amorous atmosphere. Countless artists and poets were inspired by its red roofs, narrow streets, and bohemian neighborhoods as they perpetuated the city in their works. If you decide to celebrate your Valentineʼs Day here, you will experience the metropolis during one of its most serene moments. Mid-February might not offer the best weather, but you will be able to enjoy Pragueʼs charm in peace and undisturbed by crowds of other tourists.
Valentineʼs day or May 1st? As a western type of celebration, Valentineʼs Day was practically unknown in the Czech Republic during the communist era. Instead, the Czech people would celebrate love on the 1st of May, alongside the international Labour Day. This tradition goes back to the beginning of the 20th century as it was inspired by the famous poem of Karel Hynek Mácha, “Máj” (May). The poem describes the eve of May 1st as a time of love. In Prague, boys would memorize the opening lines of the poem and recite it to their girls in the Petřín Park under blooming orchards. Although reciting is no longer considered cool nowadays, you will still see many couples in the park on this particular day. They would kiss under the blooming tree – a habit that is still readily observed. According to the tradition, it should be either cherry or apple tree. In any case, every girl wants to be kissed, for it is said that if unkissed, she will wither away in twelve months.
However, with the influence of western movies and popular culture, Valentineʼs day found its way to the Czech culture as well. Many people, especially among the younger generation, celebrate Valentineʼs day today, but it is generally less ostentatious than in America. Most couples take it as an opportunity to spend a nice day together, often going to the cinema or for a dinner. Gifts are rather rare. Some people consider Valentineʼs day in a more negative light, arguing that it is an imported celebration which is highly commercialized, and they celebrate the 1st May instead. There are also people who celebrate both (any reason to celebrate is a good reason).
Expressions of love Generally speaking, the English “I love you” can be translated in two ways in Czech: “mám tě rád” and “miluji tě.” The first literally means “I like you,” but it can also stand for love. The second one is very serious and is only used sparingly. People often wait some time after meeting the other person (several weeks or even months) before they declare their love in this manner.
There is also a difference between being in love with someone – “zamilovat se” – and loving someone – “milovat” – although there is a lot of confusion between these two. You need to be careful with these terms, for “milovat se” can also mean to have sex.
Dating traditions On a first date, the man might want to bring flowers. These should be in an odd amount, an even number of flowers stands for mournings. Although people are not so keen about flowers anymore, it is still a romantic and somewhat polite gesture. A typical spot for a first date would be either a restaurant, café or a park, in case of good weather. While these are definitely not the only possibilities, people often choose a place where they can talk freely and thereby get to know each other. Men would be traditionally expected to pay for any expenses, but this habit is becoming increasingly obsolete. It is the women themselves who now often enforce a more equal attitude – one time one pays, next time the other one does.
While gentlemanly behaviour is no longer a necessity, small courtesies such as opening doors or holding a coat are always welcome. Old-fashioned as it might be, many girls would still regard it as a sign of maturity.
When it comes to relationships, I believe it is worth mentioning the religious aspect of this country. Compared to its European neighbours, the Czech Republic is significantly less religious. In fact, over 70 % of people here do not identify with any religious group. Sex before marriage is thus rarely perceived as a sin and many people consider it a source of pleasure just as any other.
Nevertheless, some couples choose to wait for a few days or weeks before giving in to the temptation. A “third-date rule” would be a restriction that many women follow in order to protect their chastity.
Engagement and wedding In the old days, the man would have to ask the father of his bride for permission to marry her. Today he just asks her directly. Although there is a lot of endeavour for male-female equality, in the vast majority of cases it is still the man who is expected to ask the question. To speed up the process, women often drop hints when they feel like marrying. It is also the man who tells the news of the engagement to the parents of his wife-to-be, usually over dinner.
The average age of people getting married is higher today than it used to be. Again, it seems to be connected to the increasing lack of religious faith, but it also might be because people have higher expectations of their partners and less security about their own needs and desires. The introduction and spread of various ways of contraception also add to this development. While pregnancy is still one of the most common reasons for marriage, as the average age of first-time moms climbs, many people prefer to retain a single status
Wedding traditions are quite diverse in this country. The ceremony itself can either be religious or secular, with the former becoming a bit rare nowadays. More common would be the secular type, which can take place pretty much anywhere. Some of the usual places would be a castle or palace, country hotel, park or vineyard. It is also important to distinguish between the Bohemian and Moravian region in this matter. Moravian weddings are usually more traditional, with a heavier focus on local drinks.
In the past, marriage often served for economic as well as social purposes, such as the acquisition of money and property, social climbing or joining of two wealthy families. The so-called “sňatky z rozumu” (i.e. marriages of reason) would involve the father of the bride choosing the appropriate husband for his daughter, while she had no say in this matter. These have, of course, become obsolete, although money might still be of a certain importance in the choice of a partner for some people.
Superstitions It might come as a surprise that in a country that lacks religious faith, superstitions should be such a big thing. And yet, many people, women especially, seek the advice of fortune tellers on their love matters. What they often want to know is when they will get married, who will be their future husband and what he is like, how many children they will have, and so on…
If not a fortune teller, people also look for answers in nature. The popular game of “Má mě rád, nemá mě rád…” involves tearing the petals of daisies or another similar flower in order to know whether the person in question likes them or not.
Romantic things to do in Prague A stroll through Petřín Park is a must for all couples visiting the city. However, there are countless other parks throughout Prague that will make your stay a truly romantic experience. I would suggest Letná, Stromovka or Riegrovy sady.
Another romantic spot to explore is the authentic neighbourhood called Nový Svět (New World). While a stoneʼs throw from the Prague Castle, this magical place is practically unknown to tourists. You should also check out our second castle – Vyšehrad. The gardens surrounding this complex offer a beautiful view of Prague and the picturesque local cemetery will add a perfect touch of romance.
If you are not afraid of heights, take your significant other for a romantic date to the observatory of the Žižkov TV tower. River cruise would be another option or, in case of nice weather, explore the river on your own with a paddle boat. Winter, on the other hand, invites for some fun in one of our outdoor skating rinks.
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