Celebrating Saint Nicholas

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St. Nicholas is a saint who goes by many different names – such as Klaus, Mikulas, Nikolay, Nicholas, Niklas, etc. Born during the 3rd century in the Greek province of Lycia, he became a bishop at an early age, and gave away his inheritance to charity. He was known for coming to the defence of the falsely accused, and often prevented them from being executed. In Catholic iconography, he is depicted as a bishop, wearing all the symbols of this profession: a red bishop’s cloak and a red mitre, and holding a bishop’s staff. In his hands he holds either three purses, three coins or three golden balls, and in the background are usually children or ships. St. Nicholas is the patron of children, students, pawnbrokers, merchants, archers and sailors, who would call upon him when in danger of drowning or being shipwrecked. While most contemporary saints earned their place in heaven by being put to death for their faith in various cruel ways, both St. Nicholas and St. Martin lived peacefully to a ripe old age, which must have offered great solace to the medieval common folk who made them very popular. St. Nicholas is unique in that most of his bones have been preserved in the crypt in Bari. It is said his bones each year on his name day sweat out a clear watery liquid called Manna, which possesses immense powers. While several theories exist about this phenomenon, neither the church nor any scientists have tried to analyse the fluid so far. Be Good, Else the Parkelj Will Take You! The celebration of St. Nicholas Day reflects conflicts between Protestantism and Catholicism. Since Nicholas was a canonised saint, Martin Luther replaced the festival that had become associated with the Papacy with a “Christkind” (Christ child) celebration on Christmas Eve. Nevertheless, St. Nicholas Day is still celebrated across Europe, as children do not feel like giving up their gift bringer that easily, and neither do shop owners. The American Santa Claus derives from this festival, its name being a derivation of the Dutch word Sinterklaas. The tradition of Sveti Miklavz (St. Nicholas) who brings gifts to children on the eve of December 6th, is a popular Slovenian folk tradition, first mentioned in written records in 1839. Every child that has been good in the past year receives a gift, and is encouraged to continue in the same manner in the year to come. However, if the child was naughty, St. Nicholas’ s evil companion called “parkelj” (the devil) will put him in a sack and take him away from his parents. “Parkelj” drags chains behind him and rattles them in front of the house door, which to a little child sounds very devilish indeed (at least it did to me, I always climbed under the kitchen table). In the past, some Slovenian villages took the ritual of rattling chains a tad too seriously, as the men who played the “parkelj” got into violent fights with each other. Most Slovenian towns will organise a small celebration, with Ljubljana having a three-day St. Nicholas Fair with festively decorated stalls offering goods traditionally given as St. Nicholas gifts in Slovenia. On the eve of the 5th of December, the St. Nicholas procession will begin at Krekov trg (square), go through Ciril-Metodov trg, pass down Stritarjeva ulica (street) and end up at Presernov trg, where the colourfully costumed angels and “parkeljni” will give a performance. St. Nicholas will address the gathered crowd while the angels will be distributing biscuits, fruits and sweets to the good children, and “parkeljni” will be scaring the naughty ones. Definitely worth seeing, whether you are a child by age or a child at heart!