Sv. Mikalojus (St. Nicholas) has a long tradition in Lithuania. In 1518 Sigismund I the Old married Bona Sforza, who came from Bari, Italy. She brought a devotion to St. Nicholas with her to Lithuania and Poland. Queen Bona was granted Lithuanian lands from Grodno to Kaunas. She was active in developing Kaunas and also encouraged devotion to Saint Nicholas, her beloved San Nicola.
Kaunas, now the second largest city in Lithuania, adopted St. Nicholas as patron saint. In 1575 St. Nicholas was on the seal of the Municipal Jury of Kaunas Town Hall. In 1627 his picture was placed on the front page of the municipal book of records.
In the 21st century new initiatives to recover some of Kaunas history and tradition have taken root. In 2008 St. Nicholas golden orbs were placed on Kaunas coat of arms and flag. In 2010 Kaunas Town Hall Square Association began to revive St. Nicholas traditions on St. Nicholas Day, December 6th or the Sunday nearest. The association commissioned local artist Adolfas Teresius to create a St. Nicholas statue to be kept in the local St. Nicholas Benedictine Church.
The annual celebration begins with Mass in St. Nicholas Benedictine Church, followed by the procession of St. Nicholas’ statue to Kaunas Cathedral, the Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul, for another festive Mass. The statue is then taken in procession, accompanied by a brass band and crowds of citizens, to the Town Hall where it is put on public display.
The Mayor, marshal and St. Nicholas step out on the Town Hall balcony, where the Mayor presents the key to the city to St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas admonishes the crowd to help each other. Tourists and others toss coins all year at the town square exhibit on the 15th century wax smelting furnace. The collected cash becomes St. Nicholas Charity and is divided and placed in three symbolic linen bags given to local charities—particularly those that benefit children.
St. Nicholas then walks about the square, greeting the Christmas Market vendors and wishing them a good season. The celebration concludes with lighting the Christmas tree on the town square.
St. Nicholas also makes school visits, telling the children about his charity and talking with them about what they are learning.