The Slovenia Times

On St Nicholas Day, the good and the bad


End-of-year festivities have been under way around Slovenia since the start of the month. But for many the real beginning to the festive season comes on 5 December on the eve of St Nicholas Day, a holiday that has been gaining renewed prominence in the past three decades.

Public events will be held in places large and small around the country. In rural areas Miklavž, as St Nicholas is known in Slovenia, and his colourful entourage usually also go from door to door, visiting each house with small children.

Bearer of symbolic gifts

Traditionally, St Nicholas, who is celebrated across much of Eastern and Central Europe, would bring simple gifts to well-behaved children, such as fruit and carobs. The misbehaved kids got a hazel rod.

Today, many children receive bigger and more expensive presents, though still not on the scale of what they get for Christmas.

If the St Nicholas procession does not make it to one's home, parents usually hide the presents in their children's shoes.

The good and the bad

St Nicholas appears as a costumed figure with a long white beard, dressed in bishop's robes, equipped with a bishop's mitre and a staff.

He is typically accompanied by devil-like creatures called Parklji, the Slovenian equivalent of Krampus, who go around in full mask, covered in soot and rattling their chains ominously.

The tradition stems from pagan times, when people believed that souls of the dead returned to Earth in winter time. Like many pagan rituals, the tradition was subsumed by the Catholic Church over centuries.

Parklji are controlled by St Nicholas, but he does not stop them from giving poorly behaved children and youths a massive scare.

The presence of a group of masked men alone can be quite traumatic for small children. Parklji often take things further with older children and youths.

In the past, girls especially were often taken outside in the freezing night and thrown into the snow by the Parklji. This tradition is increasingly frowned upon, though it remains alive in some rural areas.

Return of a suppressed holiday

St Nicholas was the only bearer of gifts in Slovenia up until the Second World War.

Because of the strong religious note - Nicholas was an early Christian bishop who lived in the second and third century AD - he was gradually replaced after the war by Grandfather Frost, a secular figure imported from Russia.

Nevertheless, the tradition remained alive, though it was mostly confined to rural areas. It also retained a strong spiritual connotation and, according to ethnologists, the house-to-house visits were more important than the gift giving.

During the late 1980s suppression of Church holidays ended and St Nicholas once again became a much more public holiday, developing into its present-day combination of processions and pageantry.

During the same period as St Nicholas Day celebrations were revived, Santa Claus started rising to prominence as well, most notably in the late 1980s. So now, many Slovenian children get presents three times in December.


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