In the Czech Republic, International Children's Day has its roots in the 1950s

What started as day for protecting children following the tragedies of World War II has evolved into a celebration of childhood.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 31.05.2021 16:12 (updated on 31.05.2021)

International Children’s Day is celebrated on June 1 in much of Central and Eastern Europe, including the Czech Republic. Only a few relatively small events are planned for this year due to the pandemic.

One would think that making an international day for children would be something people could easily agree on, but actually different countries have different days, with Nov. 20 also popular. That day commemorates the Declaration of the Rights of the Child by the UN General Assembly in 1959.

But much of what was the Eastern bloc was already celebrating a different day for almost a decade. On Nov. 4, 1949, the Women's International Democratic Federation at a meeting in Moscow chose June 1 as the International Day for Protection of Children, and the first edition was celebrated in 1950.

One of the key reasons that a day for protecting children became a priority after World War II was the massacre of the women and children in the Czech village of Lidice in 1942 and another massacre in France in 1944.

The chosen date of June 1 has its roots in the World Conference for the Well-being of Children, which met on June 1, 1925, in Geneva, Switzerland, and called for increased rights for children. On the same day in 1925, the Chinese Consul General in San Francisco, California, gathered Chinese orphans together before the start of a boat race and called for society to focus more on the welfare of children.

While the Geneva conference suggested a day of recognition for children, they did not agree on one. Different countries chose different dates, and that situation continues.

There were some performances and games held on school grounds in the First Republic of Czechoslovakia, at least according to a 2010 statement by the Czech government. The statement did not specify what date they were held on, though, and it was not very organized. “Their form and scope depended on the helpfulness of the teachers,” the government said.

The date on June 1 was officially recognized in Czechoslovakia in 1951. Over time, the Day for Protection of Children (Den pro ochranu dětí) evolved into International Children’s Day (Mezinárodní den dětí) or just Children’s Day (Den dětí).

In the 1950s, it became a day for the state to emphasize the recent accomplishments in areas of education and support for youth clubs and the Pioneers. Children’s drawings were prominently displayed in store windows, new playgrounds would be officially opened. Speeches where broadcast over radio, and children were required to listen.

By 1958, the emphasis had begun to shift to a day of fun for children rather than a day when children put on rehearsed presentations to entertain adults.

Celebrations in Prague this year

On June 1, 2021, there will be an all-day celebration at Vyšehrad from 10 am to 5 pm near the Old Burgrave's House (Starého purkrabství). Performances and workshops are planned. Some events require tickets or voluntary contributions. More informational can be found on the Vyšehrad website.

There will also be a fairy tale journey at Klamovka Park at 4 pm Children will be given a list of tasks to solve, and will receive a present when they complete the card. More info is here.

Kotlářka will have an event where children look for 10 photos on a trail. Maps can be sent to parents via email. Participants can meet afterwards from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Youth Stadium, Na Kotlářce 14, Prague 6. Details can be found here.

All local events for International Children's Day are primarily in the Czech language.

You can also read more about the modern-day incarnation of the Czech Pionyr tradition here.

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