Devils chase children in Czech village's eerie Christmas custom

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VALASSKA POLANKA, The Czech Republic (Reuters) - Masked devils march through the village, rattling their chains and clanking bells, going door-to-door to search for badly-behaved children.

The sinister-looking pre-Christmas tradition in the Czech village of Valasska Polanka is actually a celebration of the 4th-century Saint Nicholas, who appears in costume to soothe the children with sweets.

Chased in the snow by 40 fearsome figures in sheepskin masks, the village youngsters saw it as good fun.

“The tradition is beautiful, we enjoy it, we run away from those devils, they chase us, it is awesome,” said Vaclav Kozubik a teenager from Valasska Polanka, some 330 km (200 miles)southeast of the capital Prague.

One of the devils, wearing a 40-year-old mask once used by his father, was critical of novelties like the Krampus masks worn in the Christmas period across central Europe.

“The (younger) lads are influenced by the Krampus a bit, they are trying to adjust their horns, but we older (ones) don’t like it much; we want our Polanka tradition to go on,” said one masked man who gave his name as Cerny Cert - meaning Dark Devil.

Reporting by David Cerny; Writing by Robert Muller; Editing by Ros Russell