In Germany, St Nicholas’ main task is to fill boots: Children place boots in front of the door on the night of 6 December and hope that St Nicholas will leave them with sweets and small gifts overnight. However, for some families he only arrives on the evening of St Nicholas’ Day itself: he wears a red coat, a beard and a red hat and hands over the presents personally or reminds children to work harder at school, for example. The rod with which he—or his companion Knecht Ruprecht—threatened previous generations remains outside the door. Christian churches commemorate the anniversary of the death of a saint on St Nicholas’ Day: Bishop Nicholas of Myra.
His colleague from Ukraine has a slightly different way of working, as Tünews editor Yana Rudenko reports. Above all, he has taken more time over the centuries to give presents than his Western counterpart: most Orthodox churches celebrate church holidays differently to Catholics or Protestants according to the Julian calendar: St Nicholas’ Day therefore falls on 19 December. However, the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has changed its calendar to the New Julian calendar this year, meaning that the church holidays, which are linked to a fixed date, are the same as in Germany. So St Nicholas also comes to Ukraine on 6 December.
Yana describes how St Nicholas gives presents to children in Ukraine:
“Traditionally, St Nicholas puts presents and sweets for ‘good’ children under their pillows at night. On the eve of this feast, the children write letters to him with their wishes and put them in the letterbox or hang them on the window. Sometimes the children write about their good deeds, apologise for negligence and write down what they wish for. In many schools, children come together to write their letters. In the morning, good children find a present under their pillow—which their parents have put there on behalf of St Nicholas. ‘Naughty’ children find a rod. It serves as a reminder to do better. But of course, parents usually also give naughty children a present.
St Nicholas is revered for his charity. That is why there are charity events in church parishes and also secular charity projects. For example, some organisations give presents to orphans on this day.
Children’s parties are also organised in schools and kindergartens. Children put on a play, do handicrafts or organise a small fair or quiz. St Nicholas then usually pays a personal visit. School staff or a parent slip into this role and hand out sweets.
A special biscuit called ‘Mykolaychyky’ is also baked for St Nicholas’ Day: The name comes from ‘Den’ Svyatoho Mykolaya’, which translates as St Nicholas’ Day. Adults also like to eat the biscuits. In Ukraine, you can still buy them on New Year’s Day.“
Am 6. Dezember ist Nikolaustag. Foto: tünews INTERNATIONAL / Mostafa Elyasian