Saint Nicholas, Archbishop of Lichia is celebrated on December 6th. St. Nicholas lived at the end of the 3rd century, beginning of the 4th - he was born in what today is Turkey. His name means 'the man who belongs to victorious people', from nike - victory, and laos - population, people (both in Greek). Although born in a very affluent and rich family, after the death of his family he gives his inheritance away and was chosen to lead the Mira Lichia diocese. He participated to the first ecumenical synod of Nicea, in year 325, arguing very hard against the heresy that Jesus wasn't God's son, but just a man with super-natural powers. He was so worried about this heresy, that he slapped Arie during the synod. Thus the custom to bring a stick for the ones who are not listening, as a warning.
Another custom of St. Nicholas celebration was to receive a branch of an apple tree. You put it in the water and if it bloomed by Christmas it meant St. Nicholas put in a good word toward the forgiveness of the Christian. From this custom - most of Romanian Carols have a mention to 'white flowers' (which I have to admit I was totally taken aback by, why would you sing about flowers, pure white, in the middle of the winter? I always thought it's somehow a mix of the snow crystals - which look like flowers... but it's not!)
Our child recognizes the beauty of mixed cultures, especially toward Christmas. His name day can be celebrated 3 times in the Orthodox calendar, we do celebrate the last one, on Nov. 14th, the day before the fast starts. He also looks forward to the small gifts of St. Nicholas - makes the wait to Christmas day a bit easier :) It's not the gifts, and he knows it (St. Nicholas brings chocolates and fruits only), it's the beauty of the celebration he looks forward too. The anticipation of cleaning his shoes, and mommy's, and daddy's and getting up early in the morning to check if Saint Nicholas stopped by!
Below you can hear a beautiful carol - for St. Nicholas - with gorgeous byzantine icons (the ones our church utilizes mostly). Monique, I am sure you'll enjoy this - and as Christmas approaches I'll share more traditions and Romanian carols; I find them to have a special beauty - although William says they are mostly sad. Yes, that they are... because they speak not only of Jesus' birth (a time of celebration), but prepare us for what follows (the hardship of His family having to run away, the killing of the babies, the miracles, and then the final sacrifice).