Category Archives: Traditions From the Old Country

Saint Nicholas

There are gifts in our shoes!

Saint Nicholas

Hmmm, chocolate… And shiny coins!

Saint Nicholas

Cool, new toys!

Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas has been very busy…

Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas day is a celebration day for children, it is a day for presents, happiness and joy. It is said that on the night of December 5, Saint Nicholas comes to the window and leaves candy and other little gifts in the children’s shoes. On the morning of December 6, children wake up looking forward particularly to the candy 🙂

Who is Saint Nicholas? Orthodox tradition identifies Saint Nicholas, also called Nikolaos of Myra, as a historic 4th century Christian saint and Greek Bishop of Myra (Demre, part of modern-day Turkey) in Lycia. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, a practice celebrated on his feast day ― St Nicholas Day. In 1087, part of the relics (about half of the bones) were furtively translated to Bari, in Apulia, Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nikolaos of Bari. The remaining bones were taken to Venice in 1100.

The historical Saint Nicholas is commemorated and revered among Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox Christians. In addition, some Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches have been named in honor of Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, pawnbrokers and students in various cities and countries around Europe. He was also a patron of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors, who protected his relics in Bari. Currently at Bari, there are two churches at his shrine, one Roman Catholic and one Orthodox.

Sailors from Bari collected just half of Nicholas’ skeleton, leaving all the minor fragments in the grave. These were collected by Venetian sailors during the first crusade and brought to Venice, where a church to St. Nicholas, the patron of sailors, was built on the Lido. This tradition was confirmed in two scientific investigations of the relics in Bari and Venice, which revealed that the relics in the two cities belong to the same skeleton.

There are many legends about Saint Nicholas. According to one legend, a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Hearing of the girls’ plight, Nicholas decided to help them, but being too modest to help the family in public (or to save them the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to the house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the house.

According to another legend, during a great famine that Myra experienced in 311–312, a ship was in the port at anchor, which was loaded with wheat for the Emperor in Constantinople. Nicholas invited the sailors to unload a part of the wheat to help in time of need. The sailors at first disliked the request, because the wheat had to be weighed accurately and delivered to the Emperor. Only when Nicholas promised them that they would not suffer any loss for their consideration, the sailors agreed. When they arrived later in the capital, they made a surprising find: the weight of the load had not changed, although the wheat removed in Myra was enough for two full years and could even be used for sowing.

Today, Saint Nicholas is still celebrated as a great gift-giver in several European countries. According to one source, in medieval times nuns used the night of 6 December to deposit baskets of food and clothes anonymously at the doorsteps of the needy. According to another source, on 6 December every sailor or ex-sailor of the Low Countries (which at that time was virtually all of the male population) would descend to the harbour towns to participate in a church celebration for their patron saint. On the way back they would stop at one of the various Nicholas fairs to buy some hard-to-come-by goods, gifts for their loved ones and invariably some little presents for their children.

In Romania, children typically leave their – preferably well-cleaned – winter boots on the windowsill on the evening of 5 December. By next morning Saint Nicholas (Moş Nicolae or Sfântul Nicolae) leaves candy and little gifts if they have been good, or a little rod if they have been bad (most children end up getting small gifts, but also a small rod). I have to say, I have no recollection of receiving a rod, but I do remember finding a little gift in my boots in the morning. Except now I know it was from Mum 🙂

Today Saint Nicholas has added cherries to his gifts…

Saint Nicholas

The big guy cleans up everything! We might have to keep the candy away from him…

Saint Nicholas

1 Martie – Ziua Mărțișorului

Mărțișor (Romanian pronunciation: [mərtsiʃor]) is an old Romanian celebration at the beginning of spring, on March the 1st, which according to old calendar was also considered as the beginning of the new year. In ancient Rome, New Year’s Eve was celebrated on March 1 – ‘Martius’, as the month was called in the honour of the god Mars. The tradition is authentic in Romania, Moldova and all territories inhabited by Romanians and Aromanians. Alike though not identical customs can be found in Bulgaria, Albania, Greece and Romania.

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Mărțișor is the name for the red and white string from which a small decoration is tied, and which is offered by people on the 1st day of March. Today, and especially in urban areas, the Mărțișor is a symbol of friendship or love, appreciation and respect.

Giving this talisman to people is an old custom, and it is believed that the one who wears the red and white string will be strong and healthy for the year to come. It is also a symbol of the coming spring. Usually, both women and men wear it pinned to their clothes, close to the heart, until the last day of March, when they tie it to the branches of a fruit-tree. In some regions, a gold or silver coin hangs on the string, which is worn around the neck. After wearing it for a certain period of time, they buy red wine and sweet cheese with the coin, according to a belief that their faces would remain beautiful and white as cheese, and rubicund as the red wine, for the entire year. I have to go shopping 🙂

Puffles now wears enough talismans to protect him from all the strange people in the world!

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Honey will just set Mohan on the strange people!

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These cuties will bring a touch of spring and friendship anytime and anywhere 🙂

Happy 1st of March Day!

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Puffles, Honey and all the bears would like to say thank you to their star photographer for the present of martișoare 🙂