The Eve of St. Nicholas and St. Nicholas Day are important holidays in Eastern Europe – at least for kids! This day of gift-giving and of assessing the behavior of children is akin to America's tradition of Santa Claus, who appears on December 24th and secretly leaves gifts under the tree. While some Eastern European countries have a Santa Claus-like
figure who appears on Christmas Eve, the arrival of St. Nicholas earlier in December is also anticipated.
St. Nicholas Tradition
St. Nicholas usually appears in his bishop's cloak and hat, but this elderly gentleman also wears the familiar white beard. The tradition of St. Nicholas Eve in Eastern Europe varies a little by each country, but the overall message is the same: good children receive gifts and bad children are warned to behave.
St. Nicholas sometimes has helpers that appear in the form of angels and devils. Either working alone or with his assistants, he asks children if they've been good, requests that they sing a song, or has them say a prayer before passing out small treats. Children who don't meet St. Nick in person put their shoe on the windowsill to be filled with candy and gifts over night.
St. Nicholas Eve in Prague
On St. Nicholas Eve in Prague
, St. Nick and his helpers publicly reward children. The best of this fun holiday can be witnessed on Old Town Square, where many groupings of three merry winter characters congregate to celebrate the holiday and recognize the original St. Nicholas's association with gift-giving.
St. Nicholas' Two Days
Depending upon the religious affiliations of the country, St. Nicholas Day may either be celebrated on December 6th (Western calendar) or December 19th (Eastern Orthodox Calendar). While most of the countries of East and East Central Europe observe St. Nicholas Day on the 6th, Orthodox countries like Ukraine mark this holiday on the 19th.