December 14, 2018
Did you know St. Nick (more formerly known as Saint Nicholas or Saint Nikolas) had a name day? This is not the Santa Claus version you are familiar with, but the saint from long ago.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term “name day,” it’s a festivity like a birthday, but is more popular than a birthday. Each day of the year has several related names assigned to it.
The name day in his honor, Nikulden (Никулден, St. Nicholas’ Day), is celebrated on December 6. What many people know him for is his reputation for giving gifts. The most famous story about this was that he secretly threw three purses of gold coins through the window of the house of a poor man who had three unmarried daughters. In those days, women needed a dowry to marry. Without one and with not much hope of obtaining employment sufficient to live on, most poor women ended up as prostitutes. Thus, from this generous act, Santa Claus came into existence.
Less known is the fact that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of fishermen and sailors. Since the eastern side of Bulgaria borders the Black Sea, this is an important holiday for Bulgarians. As a sign of respect to the saint, men don’t go out on the sea.
A fish — in particular the carp — is an important part of celebrations in his honor. It is called the servant of St. Nicholas and is considered sacred because a bone inside its head is shaped like a cross. The bone is often used as an amulet, sewn inside the hat of a newborn, to protect the infant.
Bread is the center of the Christmas feast. It has a coin or fortunes hidden inside. Whoever finds the coin inside his bread is certain to have luck throughout the year.
This tradition is incorporated into my children’s short story and coloring/activity book, The Christmas Thief, where a seven-year-old boy named Christopher is determined he’s going to catch the Winter Monster who steals food from his family’s porch every Christmas. What he discovers instead is the meaning of sharing.
Go to The Christmas Thief page to find more information about the book.