St. Nicholas Day
Topics covered in this section:
- Keeps Sun on Track
- Nicholas the Seaman
- Why Leap Year
- Pronunciation Help
Saint Nicholas (Nicolae in Romania) is probably the best-known and best-loved saint in the world because of his association in many cultures with Santa Claus.
But the real St. Nicholas was a real person. He lived in the 4th century in Myra (in present-day Turkey) where he was the Bishop of a Christian church.
In 1087 when the muslims of the Ottoman Empire invaded Myra, Crusaders took the saint's relics to Bari, Italy.
In Romania, the St. George Orthodox Church in Bucharest keeps the saint's right hand in a glass case.
In Romania St. Nicholas is depicted as an old man with a white beard who comes to people's homes during the night, bringing gifts and sweets to children. He places these gifts in the children's boots, which had been carefully placed by the front door the night before.
Keeps Sun on Track
Saints Toader and Nicholas
Two saints keep the Sun on track. St. Toader handles that task in the spring and St. Nicholas keeps the Sun in its assigned path during the winter.
Human Sins Disgust Sun
When the Sun looks down upon the Earth, it gets disgusted with the sins of humankind and tries to travel a different path.
Bored Sun Tries to Escape
And, of course, the Sun gets bored having to always walk the exact same path every day. So the Sun is always trying to escape from St. Toader and St. Nicholas.
Easier with Old St. Nicholas
The Sun knows it has little chance to escape while St. Toader is guarding the Sun's orbit. But St. Nicholas is old and doesn't have a horse. So the Sun attempts to escape more often in the winter than in the spring.
Nicholas the Seaman
Patron of Sailors
Legend tells us that St. Nicholas was a seaman and is the patron of sailors, fishermen, and those who travel on water.
Calms the Storms
According to one legend, St. Nicholas was returning home from his trip to Jerusalem when a storm threatened the ship on which he was traveling. St. Nicholas knelt down and began to pray. Suddenly the storm stopped, much to the surprise and delight of the sailors.
Brings Sailors to Life
Another legend also deals with a ship that got caught in a violent storm and St. Nicholas was the only one to survive. And it was his prayers to God that brought his fellow crewmen, who had all drowned, back to life.
Stopped Noah's Flood
But even more miraculously, it was St. Nicholas who stopped the torrential rains in the times of Noah.
Why Leap Year
St. Casian Governs Leap Day
According to one legend, St. Casian governs Leap Day (February 29). One day St. Casian was busy complaining to God that he wasn't very important since he doesn't appear every year in the calendar.
Meets Tired St. Nicholas
While St. Casian was complaining about his unimportant role, who should walk by but St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas had just spent the entire night rescuing some people from the flood waters and was tired and soaked to the bone.
Come Back in Four Years
God pointed to St. Nicholas and told St. Casian that all of the important saints knew the value of hard work. God told St. Casian that instead of complaining, he should go out and work hard if he wanted to become more important. Angry, God told St. Casian to leave and return in another four years to see if he had learned his lesson.
The following brief traditions don't fall in another category.
Left Side of God
St. Archangel Michael sits at the right hand of God. St. Nicholas sits on God's left.
Peasants tell the story of how when St. Nicholas shakes his head, snow falls from his white beard.
Helps Poor Girls
St. Nicholas is known for helping girls who live in poverty.
Legend claims that he was special even as an infant. He only suckled from his mother's right breast. And on Wednesdays and Fridays he refused to suckle until dusk.
Twigs Instead of Gifts
Disobedient children are warned by their parents that if they don't improve their behavior they'll receive twigs (a spanking) instead of nice gifts.
In his novel Childhood Memories, Romanian writer Ion Creangă refers to this tradition. He recalls how disobedient students were forced to ride the "white horse" and receive the "blessings" of St. Nicholas.
As explained in the novel, the "white horse" was a special chair that allowed the student to assume a position in which the priest (teacher) could administer the "blessings" of St. Nicholas (spanking with a special twig).
Most Romanians have two personal holidays — their birthday and their name day. The latter is celebrated on the saint's day after whom they are named.
On St. Nicholas Day, about a half million people celebrate their name day. Some of these names are: Nicolae, Nicoleta, Nicu, and various derivatives.
To help American readers, the following pronunciation guide to Romanian words used above is provided. The sounds shown are only approximations, however.
- Creangă. (Creanga) Krahn-guh.
- Nicolae. Nee-koh-ligh.
- Nicoleta. Nee-koh-leh-tah.
- Nicu. Nee-koo.