In Ukraine we celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 19th and it is a really special holiday, filled with joy and hapiness. When kids wake up in the morning, they immediately look for gifts under the pillow. Some adults too - we are all children in our hearts:) But it is important to remember that this holiday is much more than presents.
Nicholas from Patara (modern-day Turkey) was known for his big heart. He gave money to the poor, helped the sick, brought toys and warm clothing to the children. He wasn`t doing it for the fame, but came to help secretly, at night. He was made a bishop by the grateful people. Nicholas is also called the Wonderworker as there were a lot miracles during his life. Now he is one of the most famous saints in the world and the modern Santa Claus grew out of his figure.
St. Nicholas Day had been brought to our country with the Christian faith.
As Nicholas was a charitable Christian, St. Nicholas Day is closely connected to helping less fortunate. Children are told stories about the life of St. Nicholas as he is a good example of kindness, generousity and sincerety. Charitable fundraisers and events are held for orphanages, hospitals, families in need. In the West of Ukraine they make a wish-tree in a local church. The tree is decorated with letters to St. Nicholas from orphans. The parishioners can take one and fulfill somebody`s wishes.
St. Nicholas presents depend on a family. Every home has its own traditions. Chocolate figures, books or toys - if you were "good" this year, the present is waiting. Some people still bake for this holiday traditional cookies - "mykolaychyky". They are made in a shape of a star, angel or St. Nicholas with a bag of toys and covered with colorful glaze.
St. Nicholas day also marks the beginning of preparations for the New Year's Eve. It`s time to pick a Christmas tree and take out the boxes with lights and ornaments. To decorate homes and fill them with delicious smells of baking. It is the day when the Christmas trees in the cities are lit for the first time. The ceremonies usually include live performances, Christmas songs and plays.
St. Nicholas is the great wonder-worker, swift helper of those in need and fervent intercessor before God. Therefore, on the night of December 19th Ukrainians pray for their wishes to come true. Not the material things - the best present is for our loved ones to be happy and healthy.