This century-old tradition, far from being forgotten, is in full swing. In 1929 the first professional puppeteers' organization was founded in Prague and in the 1950s the first university chair of puppet theater was created in this country. In 2016 this unique tradition was inscribed on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage and International Puppet Day is celebrated on March 21. If you travel to Prague as a family, you cannot return without attending a puppet show. You can also take a handmade puppet as a souvenir or a gift.
March 21th, International Puppet Day
Like every good story we will start it as it should be: once upon a time in a kingdom called Bohemia, a traveling puppet company traveled at night to arrive at a different village the next day and fill it with the laughter of the children. Some of these companies became so well known that they were even called upon to entertain nobles and kings in their castles.
The real boom of puppets in this region dates back to the 18th century, during the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. This is when the National Revival began. The intellectuals begin to recover the Slavic culture and language, which had been relegated to the background since the language of the empire was German. The travelling companies will start to go from village to village performing their shows in Czech. With these measures the language was brought closer to the youngest in a playful way, it starts to be an entertainment with educational purposes. Being a puppeteer became a trade, they made their own wooden puppets, also props and scenery. In this period there were 3000 groups that traveled all over the country telling their stories. The puppets represented typical characters such as Harlequin, the Devil, the King and the Princess.
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In 1918, when the independence of Czechoslovakia was proclaimed, puppets began to play a patriotic role. It is necessary to emphasize Kašpárek, the puppet created by Karel Novak. Harlequin dressed in the colors of the flag of Czechoslovakia, ie red, white and blue. He was a burlesque character and a critic of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he also played a social role.
But much more remembered and recognized internationally is the couple formed by Spejbl and his son Hurvínek. Two nice wooden puppets with very expressive eyes created by Josef Kupa, famous Czech humorist and puppet lover. This puppet duo was very well known in Europe and also in America. Through these figures the artist expressed himself in a critical tone about all the negative phenomena that were registered in the society of that time. With these characters he captured the real life of Czech society.
With the advent of World War II many of the companies disappeared, even Josef Kupa himself was imprisoned by the Gestapo. However, this beautiful tradition, far from being forgotten, made the children's childhood more bearable during the war and resurfaced much more strongly after the conflict.
Today this ancient tradition, although it could have been replaced by technology and new forms of entertainment, is more alive than ever. There are currently 9 puppet theaters in Prague, 100 independent groups made up of professionals, and some 3000 amateur groups. In addition, there is a university degree in puppetry and other specialties.
Among the museums and theaters that are scattered throughout the country dedicated to the art of puppetry is the National Puppet Theater in Prague. There, the Don Giovanni or the Magic Flute are performed daily, bringing classical opera closer to young and old. Without a doubt one of the best activities that can be done after an intense day of walking around the city.