Penpalling & Letters

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The Saint Nicholas tradition

The last story belonging to the Travelling around the World section took the attention of many people. Many got in touch to express how much they liked reading Deirdre's words. SandbookNet Team is one of them. They even wrote a summary of how Saint Nicholas is celebrated in their homeland in the comments section of "Sinterklaas" post. After some exchange of thoughts and ideas we decided to work on a compilation about how Saint Nicholas is celebrated in some countries all over the world. And here it is the result in this new post. Following Deirdre's celebration in the Netherlands, we have guests from Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany and Italy who wanted to share with all of us how Saint Nicholas is celebrated in their homelands.

St. Nicholas was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th (December 19 on the Julian Calendar). [Information taken from St. Nicholas Center]

SandbookNet tells us that the tradition and celebration on December 6th in Bulgaria are a derivate from the St. Nicholas, "Sinterklaas" in the Netherlands. Here, the day is also known as Nikulden (den means day when translated from Bulgarian, Nikul is a derivate of the name of the Saint). Actually, Nikulden is an Orthodox Christian festivity for St. Nicolay Mirlikiiski - who is a patron of the sailors, travelers and bankers. An interesting fact is that the festivity is actually on December 19th (according to the Julian’s Calendar), but this is one of the traditions that are celebrated according to the new Gregorian’s Calender, which sets off the day to December 6th.

Carp - typical Bulgarian dish

In Bulgaria, the festivity is celebrated as a Name Day of all the people whose names are a derivate or close to the name Nicolay - Nicola, Neicho, Nicolina, Nicoleta, Kolio, Nicolas, etc... Names Days are popular among the Orthodox Christians. They are pretty much like a celebration of the person, who has a Name Day - it does sound a lot like a Birthday, minus the cake and the candles or the presents. The tradition states that on Nikulden you will have to prepare a meal from fish, usually the meal is carp with nuts.

Marina comes from Croatia and she tells us that in her country, the evening before St. Nicholas day, kids put their boots or some other shoes on the window, so that St. Nicholas can bring them gifts. This way, in the morning of St. Nicholas day they mostly find candies in their shoes.

However, if children are not good, they will receive a visit from "Krampus" who traditionally leaves a rod in their shoe, an instrument their parents will use to "discipline" them. But kids always get candies, something with a rod because maybe they weren't so good but that's only a joke in the end...

Krampus (demon-like creature) & St. Nicholas

Samia is from France and this is the story she wanted to share with us: "I live in the north-east of France, near the border of Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. I think that St. Nicholas is more celebrated in this part of France (Alsace and Lorraine) than in any other. Generally, during the day, St. Nicholas and "Père Fouettard" visit schools. Then, in most cities, there's a parade (more or less big, given the size of the city) and all along the way, St. Nicholas gives out candies, sweets and chocolate. The most famous celebrations of that day in my area take place in the city of Nancy. I don't know if you'll be able to watch this but here is the video report about the parade that took place last Saturday in Nancy":

"Saint Nicholas Parade in Nancy"

Sabine is from Germany and this is how she lives the celebration in this country: "Coming originally from East Germany, there the children put their fresh cleaned boots in front of the door the evening of 5th December. During the night, St. Nicholas is filling the boots with some sweets, small gift, etc... The main thing is that nobody sees St. Nicholas. In the morning of 6th December, the children run to the boots to find their gifts.

Now I'm living near to the border to Switzerland, France and Austria, and here St. Nicholas is coming to visit the children in the kindergarten, it means he is visible here!

Shoes full of candy and sweets
Typical sweets from St. Nicholas

Our last guest is Sara, who comes from Italy. This is the story she shares with us about celebrations in Friuli: "Here, in Ligosullo, a tiny mountainous village situated in the North East of Italy, almost at the border with Austria, the arrival of "Saint Nicholas" is celebrated every year and all the kids wait for his arrival with particular impatience, too. "San Nicolò", as we call it in Italy, is also our patron saint, that makes the celebration even more important in our small village because in the morning there's a special Mass at the local Church, too, following our catholic traditions, and in the afternoon all families with children meet up in a room provided by the town council to wait for San Nicolò’s arrival. The kids get always very excited, of course, and usually the weeks before this day their mums and dads ask them to be good, otherwise San Nicolò won't bring them any gifts! San Nicolò arrives with a big basket full of presents, that obviously all parents and grandparents have given to him before the celebration, being sure to write the name of the kid so that the old Saint doesn't make mistakes. Ok, the saint is old and his sight is getting worse and worse, but mistakes like that aren’t accepted by children! He wears his typical outfit, a long dress, a sort of walking stick, his hat and has a very long beard. This year we celebrated it on Sunday 5th December, as being a Sunday all children weren't at school or kindergarten, and this way we could also have a lovely time afterwards, drinking hot chocolate some guys from our town had prepared for everyone and eating "pandoro" and "panettone", which are typical Italian Christmas season cakes".


If you are interested in reading more articles related to the Christmas time and New Year's, check the following:

- Sinterklaas
- The Saint Nicholas tradition
- The Christmas Season in Spain
- New Year's Celebrations
- The Three Kings Day or "Día de Reyes"

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