Sunday, December 06, 2015

Virtual Advent Tour 2015: St. Nicholas

Once again I am participating in Virtual Advent Tour, this year organised by Sprite at Sprite Writes.

Today is the 6th of December, one of very special December days, because it is the name day of Saint Nicholas, the good man who brings presents for the good (kids) and hazel rods and coals for the naughty. ;)

St. Nicholas was a bishop in Myra in the 3rd/4th century. As per one of the legends, there lived a poor man who couldn’t afford a dowry for his three daughters, so the bishop secretly brought three purses of gold coins, one for each daughter, and threw them into the house through an open window at night, so they could get married.

That and numerous other good deeds of generosity earned him the reputation of a gift-giver, so his name day became the day when ‘St. Nicholas’ brings gifts to children (well, nowadays, adults may get a little something as well) in Central and Western Europe.

Saint Nicholas (source)
Nowadays, with consumerism and all, in some families gifts can be quite fancy, and St. Nicholas is no longer the only gift-giver, since most people adopted the tradition of Santa Claus (and Grandpa Frost) as well.

However, most people where I live still consider St. Nicholas the main gift-bringer of the season and they mostly keep up the tradition of modest gifts, usually things a child needs.

Traditional St. Nicholas gifts are fruit, either fresh (oranges and mandarins) or dried (plums, pears, and apples, or figs), and nuts (most often walnuts, hazelnuts, or peanuts), clothes (such as new underwear and socks or winter-wear like gloves and hats or even a new pair of shoes/boots or a new piece of clothing to wear for the Midnight Mass.) Books, colouring books, or notebooks and writing/colouring utensils are also traditional gifts.

Of course, the most important part of celebrating St. Nicholas is the anticipation, trying to be as good as one can, or at least a little bit better than before, and writing letters to St. Nicholas.

If one was really, really naughty, St. Nick might give them over to devils, or so the adults would scare the kids. In the weeks before the holiday, the adults or older children from the neighbourhood would go around other houses where younger children lived in the evening and rattle with chains or knock on windows, pretending to be devils waiting to ‘get’ the ‘naughty’ child, but the scare usually only adds to the thrill.

On the evening before the holiday, the kitchen table would have to be made extra tidy and a large bowl would be placed on it, which would be full of presents in the morning.

In Catholic families, St. Nicholas would bring some presents at home, but he would also bring some at a church event, so the children can ‘meet’ him, and usually there would be also a short play with St. Nicholas, angels, and devils (who would in the end go hide behind the altar and lay in wait should St. Nick deem any kid naughty enough to give him or her over to them – which never happens, of course. ;))

It would all be very exciting, albeit a little scary, but the scare is part of the excitement, as I’ve said.

St. Nicholas's procession in Ljubljana (source)
Now I’ve relived some of my favourite childhood memories and I am grinning from ear to ear. And why, yes, I still get excited about St. Nicholas like a five-year-old, not as much for potential gifts, but for the spirit of the holiday.

What about you? Have you heard of St. Nicholas bringing gifts on the 6th of December? Is it him or someone else bringing presents where you live?

I’d love to hear some of your memories and gift-giving traditions, so feel free to share them in the comments. 

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