One of the most important Romanian holidays, Saint Nicholas, celebrated on December 6 represents the start of the winter holiday season. For Romanians Saint Nicholas Day is the messenger of all the joy and happiness Christmas holiday will bring.
But, above all, the story of Saint Nicholas is a mix of history and myth, of generosity and violence and of despair transformed into hope. Few saints have been so loved, and few carry so many traditions, beliefs, and legends.
The legend says that Saint Nicholas (Mos Nicolae in Romanian) comes by the households’ windows and leaves presents in the children’s boots or silver twigs for the others, as punishment for those who have been naughty or disobeyed their parents. In some areas a walnut branch or thin twigs with gold, silver, or bronze gilded walnuts are left as a warning that behavior needs to improve. The rods are most often placed in shoes along with candy to acknowledge that the child has done some naughty things over the year.
Many legends and stories have been told about St. Nicholas deeds through the centuries. The real Sf. Nicholas was raised by a devout Christian to assist the needy, the sick and the suffering. He was born in Patara, Turkey (at that time was Greek territory) and became Bishop Nicholas of Myra Lycia in the forth century, known for his generosity, love for children and concern for sailors and ships. He died December 6, 343, in Myra and was buried in his cathedral’s church and the anniversary of his death became St. Nicholas Day, day widely celebrated in the World and especially in Europe, by Catholics and Orthodox. The stories of his goodness and generosity are still recounted as a great worker of miracles (rescuing murdered children, giving dowry gold or bringing gifts, saving innocents and sailors).
Folk tradition says that St. Nicholas is the second sanctified man. He sits on God’s left side (St. Michael is on the right) and guards the Sun. Legend goes that the Sun, bored of walking always on the same road and disgusted of the human sins, continuously tries to escape. St. Nicholas doesn’t guard the Sun alone. He is helped by St. Toader. St. Toader catches the Sun in spring (when it is his celebration) and St. Nicholas catches it in the winter. The Sun always tries to escape because he knows that St. Nicholas is old and he doesn’t have a horse.
Other beliefs set St. Nicholas as the patron of those who travel on water. He was a seaman, the only one who didn’t drown during a strong storm. His prayers to God brought the others back to life. St. Nicholas also stopped the torrents from the times of Noah. St. Nicholas is also the one who helps the poor girls.
In Romanian peasant’s life, St. Nicholas plays a very important role.
A legend goes that St. Casian (celebrated on February 29) complained to God that he isn’t so important. Meantime, St. Nicholas arrived, all wet and tired, after having helped the entire night to the rescue of some people. Then God told to St. Casian that the important saints work hard and also told to leave and return after another 4 years.
According to Romanian traditional beliefs, if it snows on the sixth of December, it means that St. Nicholas has shaken his beard so winter can begin.