Rescuing St. Nicholas
Who will be the primary winter holiday gift-giver?
Ukraine’s long-standing traditional gift-giver, Svaty Mikolay, was forced out during the Soviet-era. In the late 1930s atheist Soviet authorities brought in Grandfather Frost, Ded Moroz. This secular character took the place of the religious Saint Nicholas. Ded Moroz comes on New Year’s Day, not December 19th, St. Nicholas Day, nor at Christmas.
Ukraine is recovering St. Nicholas, Svaty Mikolay, for two reasons: 1) growing rejection of Soviet influence and 2) reclaiming Ukrainian national tradition.
“Ukrainians have for centuries honored Svyaty Mykolay,” says Kostyantyn Oliynyk, director of Kiev’s ethnographic museum. He continues, “The first written records of Ukrainians celebrating Svyaty Mykoyay’s Day by giving presents to children and to the poor date back to the 15th century. It’s good that we’re returning to our roots, that we remember Svyaty Mykolay and his good deeds.”
Charity events to benefit children in need are now being organized in Svaty Mikolay’s name by non-profit organizations, cafés and restaurants. The main Kiev post office hosts a special post office to where children may mail letters to Mikolay. It is open from December 15 through January 7. Children may visit him there and have photos taken, too.
On his day, December 19th, Svaty Mikolay lights the Christmas tree in Sofiyivska Square to open the New Year and Christmas holidays.
What do these two figures do?
Svaty Mikolay comes during the night on December 19th, bringing gifts to well-behaved children. The presents are left under children’s pillows. Naughty children may receive only a twig.
Ded Moroz comes on New Year’s Eve. Though he is losing ground, he still comes regularly to kindergartens and primary schools. So he is observed in many Ukrainian homes.
Children benefit as many families tell their children about both Svaty Mikolay and Ded Moroz, saying that the winter holidays are for children and receiving gifts twice is not such a bad thing. Even if parents favor one gift-giver over the other, they still buy sweets or gifts for both occasions, not wanting to disappoint their children. It may be sweets for Ded Moroz and more significant gifts come from Svaty Mikolay. As of 2017, 27.5% of Ukrainians expected gifts from Father Frost, followed by 14.3% from Saint Nicholas, and 2% from Santa Claus. 28.6% didn’t want gifts from any of them.
Though things are shifting Svaty Mikolay’s way, only time will tell who will prevail.
- Trach, Nataliya, “Saint Mykolay making a comeback at Christmas,” KyivPost, December 15, 2016.
- “Ukrainians want health, peace and prosperous family in 2018,” interfax-Ukraine, December 27, 2017.