LIDECKO, Czech Republic (AP) — In an eastern corner of the Czech Republic, St. Nicholas leads a procession of followers dressed in grim reaper and devil costumes on a journey through the village of Lidecko.
The old pre-Christmas tradition has survived for centuries in just a few villages in the region known as Wallachia.
Several groups parade together, going door to door for three days. St. Nicholas presents the children with sweets to soothe them after they see the scary costumes. The devils wear homemade masks made of sheepskin and travel with white, scythe-carrying creatures that represent death.
The custom reportedly dates from the pagan era before Christianity, when the masks helped the mountainous region's inhabitants defend themselves against the demons of winter.
St. Nicholas was a Christian bishop in the ancient town of Myra who lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries and was known for his goodness and generosity. He is said to have inspired the creation of Santa Claus.