St. Nicholas Day (Deň Sv. Mikuláša)


So what is this St. Nicholas day (Dec. 6th) anyway? And why did I cook the kapustnica soup for a dinner held on this day?

About St. Nicholas

Saint Nicholas (or Svätý Mikuláš in Slovak) was a pilgrim and later a bishop and a saint born in the year 270AD in the town of Myra, in the present-day Turkey. He became famous for his extended generosity, secret gift-giving and performing miracles for the poor and the unlucky. As such, he became the patron of humanitarian brotherhoods, sailors, unmarried women, tradesmen, students and so on. He is also the patron saint of Russia and Greece. Saint Nicholas Day celebrates the life of this philanthropist, who passed away on December 6th, 346AD.

Among his most famous good deeds was saving three girls from the life of prostitution. According to the legend, their dad, a poor man, could not afford the dowry. Since he didn’t want his daughters to remain unmarried, he forced them to work this way to earn some money. When St. Nicholas learned of this misgiving, he started throwing sacks of gold coins through the girls’ windows. After three days (or three years, depending on the source), the father realized the error of his ways (or had enough money saved up). There are many variations of this story. In some, St. Nicholas tosses the coins down the chimney. In others, the coins land in one of the girl’s stockings, which she left out to dry.

Does this sound bit like the story of the American Santa Claus? Well, it ought to! See, the Dutch name for St. Nicholas is Sinterklaas, which had morphed into Santa Claus. Santa even looks very much like St. Nick. The difference is that St. Nicholas is wears a bishop’s hat (rd to match his coat) and holds a long bishop stick capped with a spiral.

Celebration in Slovakia

Deň Svätého Mikuláša is very popular with kids in Slovakia. No wonder, they get presents on this day (but only if the behaved nicely)! On the eve of St. Nicholas day, Dec. 5th, kids leave out their shoes or boots on their windowsills. Then the next morning they find the shoes filled with little presents. When I was growing up, the presents were pieces of fruit: apples, nuts, pears, or if the kid was particularly nice, an orange (in the days before supermarkets, an orange was bit of a rarity in winter). Those who behaved badly would find a piece of coal.

Then the next day, in the evening, the older boys of the village would dress up as Sv. Mikuláš and his entourage: an angel (anjel) and a devil (čert). The boys dressed as angels would wear long white shirts, while the devils wore a long black coat, painted their faces black, and tied chains and bells around their waist. They would then visit families having little kids. The little ones first had to say a prayer (something funny and improvised) and then would receive more presents: dried fruit, candies, nuts and so on. And of course, those who misbehaved got their coal. In Bratislava, the devil supposedly gave out potatoes.

According to, Mikuláš was also a day on which witches came out to play. This worried the villagers and as such, many measures would be taken to keep the witches out of the village. Men would not go to the woods, since this is where the witches were. In the Spiš region, an old broom would be hung in front the door of the barn. This would keep the witches out. Witches commonly frequented crossroads, where they would attack pedestrians, or would hide under bridges, where they muddied butter. The village boys, especially the shepherds, would try to run the witches out of the town by whistling, honking, ringing bells, or snapping whips.

So this brings me back to kapustnica. From what I’ve gathered so far, St. Nicholas day is the day when American Slovak associations hold their annual dinner. This makes sense. Most Americans don’t celebrate this day, and thus this frees up Christmas for the family get-togethers. So, St. Nicholas has become the day for Slovak-Americans to experience the traditions from the old country, and eat some tasty Slovak food! And the kids get to come out and get presents, from the old Saint Nick…

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How does your family celebrate the St. Nicholas day? I would love to hear about your traditions. Please leave a comment and share with others.