Christmas markets may be closed but the holiday spirit endures in Prague

Rogue markets are sidestepping the government ban on Christmas; while others offer handicrafts and holiday cheer in accordance with the rules. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 01.12.2021 15:49:00 (updated on 02.12.2021) Reading time: 3 minutes

The government’s ban on Christmas markets has been possibly the most controversial part of its steps to halt a rapid rise in Covid cases. In a poll conducted by shortly after the news was announced, a whopping 87% of voters said they didn’t think the markets should have been banned.

Perhaps in a similar spirit, a number of markets in Prague and around the Czech Republic are now exploiting legal loopholes to remain open this festive season.

In Most, Christmas markets are going ahead renamed as “Winter Farmers’ Markets.” And while Prague’s most famous markets on the Old Town Square may be closed, on Wenceslas Square mulled wine, trdelník and other goods are still being sold. The market on the square has been able to keep operating because the office of Prague 1 allowed it to go ahead as a “cultural event.”

“The office approved the markets as a cultural event, and therefore they are taking place according to the regime for cultural events, which are not limited in the same way,” said Petr Bidlo, a spokesperson for Prague 1.

The organizers of the market say they are working in cooperation with police and that, in accordance with measures in place for cultural events, all attendees should be checked for either vaccination against Covid or previous infection. Yet reporters have claimed vendors at the market are not enforcing even these restrictions thoroughly.

As other markets around Prague sell Christmas goods as extensions of pre-existing farmers’ markets (which are still allowed to operate), vendors at dedicated Christmas markets who face significant losses in income may feel understandably cheated. Many have also noted the apparent unfairness in the fact that while outdoor markets have been banned, indoor shopping centers likely to get extremely busy during the festive period have been allowed to stay open.

A stall selling Christmas decorations at Jiřího z Poděbrad / photo Raymond Johnston
A stall selling Christmas decorations at Jiřího z Poděbrad / photo Raymond Johnston

Some of the markets still operating are acting in accordance with government regulations; when visited a market in Prague’s Jiřího z Poděbrad today, no violations of the rules were seen. The organizers of the biggest canceled markets on the Old Town Square have meanwhile expressed their intention to stick to the letter of the law.

“We don’t want to go down the route of renaming our markets, we want to obey the law. Everyone can choose how to approach the situation themselves,” said Taiko spokesperson Hana Tietze.

The Christmas market ban has also taken on a political dimension since being announced by the government. The Wenceslas Square markets fall under the jurisdiction of Prague 1 Mayor Petr Hejma, who has openly criticized the closures announced by outgoing Minister of Health Adam Vojtěch.

Mayor of Prague Zdeněk Hřib has also been critical, and has refused to act against the markets still in operation, saying “even in a state of emergency, the mayor doesn’t have the power to suspend the validity of the market regulations.”

The response of city police to markets operating as Christmas events in all but name has so far been non-committal. “If the police find a violation of government regulation in connection with the operation of the stand, the matter shall be documented and the competent administrative authority shall be notified,” they said.

Whether or not the closure of Christmas markets is held to have been the right decision, it’s clear that as other markets exploit legal loopholes to remain open while failing to enforce precautionary Covid measures, a sense of injustice is only likely to grow.

5 spots for socially-distanced festive cheer in Prague this year

A handful of markets are selling Christmas decorations and locally made handicrafts during the Christmas season in compliance with current govt. hygiene regulations. These markets were taking place at publication time, be sure to check their websites before heading out.

  • Christmas trees, laurel wreaths, and other decorations are being sold at a number of outdoor farmers’ markets in Prague, as well as Manifesto Market locations.
  • The 13th annual LEMARKET has moved inside and will take place Dec. 4-5. Visit Hall 13 to support Czech designers and handicraft makers.
  • The traditional ceramics market will take place at Výstavišti Holešovice on Dec. 4.
  • Dyzajn market winter edition will take place Dec. 11-12 at Výstavišti Holešovice.
  • Christmas Mint Market will take place in Prague on Dec 18-19 at Prague Market Square.
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