St. Nicholas, a popular saint in Spain, has many churches dedicated to him. As a special devotion people make a Caminata in honor of Saint Nicolas of Bari. This long walk, or promenade, is made to a St. Nicholas church on three successive Mondays. Before or after the daily Mass (or at another time on the Mondays) special prayers are offered by a person seeking help. The prayers begin with an invocation, followed by a hymn, a Psalm, and a scripture reading.* The devotion concludes with a Saint Nicholas litany, the Our Father, another prayer, and final hymn (hymns are said, not sung). It is mostly women who seek this intercession, particularly in times of financial difficulty. Traditionally, if healthy enough, women walked from home to a church dedicated to St Nicholas, though it may also be to another church that has a St. Nicholas statue.
In some places, the person asks St. Nicholas a question and the answer comes through the others that are present. The person asking doesn’t intervene or talk to the others while waiting for an answer. The answer may come by bowing of the head, or saying, “yes” or “no.”
There are many accounts of the assistance and protection experienced through the St. Nicholas Caminata of Three Mondays.
Basque country San Nicolas traditions include very young boy bishops—usually between three- and six-years-old, as well as groups of men, auroros, who sing and give orations. The men collect alms to be distributed by the teacher, priest. or boy bishop himself. As customs varies from place to place, the boy may be escorted by classmates, ride a small horse, or preside over a meal with priest and teacher. The traditional treats are dried fruit, nuts, and small cakes. Peanuts have replaced chestnuts in Legazpia, saving the work of roasting. The young bishop figure is no longer found in Arrasate, though townspeople still retain vestiges of the celebration by gathering under the City Council balcony to sing and demand treats of caramels and dry fruits that rain down from above.
The city of Alicante has a big fiesta for patron saint, San Nicolás. The festival begins on the 5th of December, with the blessing of children at the cathedral, and continues through the 6th. Following Solemn Mass forty men carry the statue from the Concatedral de San Nicolás in procession through the streets of the old town. The procession is both religious and civil, with city officials, the mayor and many others taking part. St. Nicholas rides a horse and toys and candy are distributed to children.The Alicante band plays the national and city anthems when the statue returns to the cathedral. Later in the day there is another, larger, parade, followed by a street party at 10:30—all in honor of St. Nicholas of Bari.
St. Nicholas traditions have also been preserved in Catalonia, where it is said that “St. Nicholas opens the Christmas holidays.” Here, too, young boy bishops are selected in a number of monasteries and religious communities: Montserrat, Girona, Lleida, Vic, and Palma de Mallorca. Along with two attendants, the young bishop keeps alive this once-widespread medieval custom.
Children in Catalonia, with parents or teachers, go house to house singing traditional St. Nicholas songs. They carry large wicker baskets for treats of fruit, nuts, sausage, eggs, and more, that neighbors give in return.
Children often have wooden swords, a reminder of the time, long ago, when, on St. Nicholas Day, children were allowed to kill roosters found on the road. Now, in Benassal, large cardboard chickens lead the procession, recalling the former custom.
In Catalan St. Nicholas is Sant Nicolau.
*The reading on the first Monday is from Romans 12.1–2, the second, James 2.14–17, and the third, Matthew 22.36–40. The Psalms are 60, 30, and 24.
More in other sections
Goigs a Llaor de Sant Nicolau d’Arrahona
hymn in Catalan, legal size PDF
St. Nicholas Monuments in Spain
Statues and images in public places
With special thanks to Fernando Pardo de Santyana and Debra Dorn, whose families make Caminatas en honor de San Nicolas de Bari.