6 december – Nikulden ( Saint Nicholas’s Day)

Nikulden is “The Day of Saint Nicholas” – a great winter festival celebrated by all Bulgarians on December 6th. It is the name day for everyone named Nikola, Nikolay, Kolyo, Nikolina, Neno, Nenka, Nikolina or Nina.

Saint Nicholas is believed to help all the sailors and fishermen. He was born during the third century in Patara, a village situated is Turkey nowadays. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died during an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. Not only is he the patron of sailors and voyagers, but he is also a friend and protector of children. He is the master of the entire submarine realm – fish and water demons – as well as the sea winds. The autumn fishing season ends on this day. The day’s catch is to be offered to the saint. Fishermen eat the first fish caught right on the shore, before bringing the rest home.

According to the folk-Christian myths, it is Saint Nicholas who makes the winds rage and cease. Saint Nicholas can walk on the seas and whenever there is a ship in trouble, he would save it. He is the protector of sailors and fishermen, a patron for those who bear his name, a personal or family protector. Like the Greek sailors, Bulgarians also keep icons of St. Nicholas on shipboard seeking protection from storms. Sailors’ wives put icons of St. Nicholas into the sea, praying that he will bring their husbands safely back on shore. A special family lineage festival is arranged on Nikulden.

The traditional Nikulden meal in each household is based upon a fish meal – “ribnik” – a carp in dough – is traditional for the holiday. Carp is regarded as Nicholas’ servant. There are also two special loaves of bread. The food is blessed at church or at home before being served. After wafting incense over the food, the host raises the bread high, and breaks it in half. He keeps one half while the other one is left on the table. It is on Saint Nicholas’ Day that the table is open to all guests and is not cleared before the day is over. Relatives, sponsors and neighbors are invited, the table is sanctified and the feast day ends in songs and fun.
Bishop Nicholas was exiled and imprisoned under the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, a ruthless persecutor of the Christians. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals-murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. He died on December 6, AD 343 in Myra, and was buried in his cathedral church, where there is an unique relic, called manna, forming his grave. This liquid substance was said to have healing powers which fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day. By his example of generosity to those in need, especially children, St. Nicholas continues to be a model for the compassionate life.
In Netherlands, St. Nicholas’ Day is celebrated with the sharing of candies (thrown in the door), chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts.