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The Bulgarian Festival Calendar

 

Nikulden

Saint Nikolas’ s Day

(Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker)

December 6

 

The name day of Nikolina, Nikola, Nikolay, Kolyo. The Old Greek Nike means ‘victory, victor’.

    The day is dedicated to the saint, the patron of water, who protects the people. Saint Nicholas reigns over the seas, the rivers, the lakes and the whole underwater world – fishes, storm-demons, mermaids and nymphs. In folk legends he is a white-bearded old man who helps sailors in trouble.
    A legend tells how Saint Nicholas saved a ship from sinking by stopping the hole with a live carp. That is why on the table that day the carp is the traditional offering, in addition to the dishes without meat – sarmi, peppers and legumen.
    The table is not cleared the whole day and the woman of the house keeps the bone from the head of the carp, “the cross” as an amulet against bad luck and diseases.
      Saint Nicholas Day is a festival for children in much of Europe related to surviving legends of the saint, and particularly his reputation as a bringer of gifts. The American Santa Claus, as well as the Anglo-Canadian and British Father Christmas, derive from these legends.

Addendum -  Nikulden is "The Day of Saint Nikolas" - a great winter festival celebrated by all Bulgarians on December Sixth. It is the name day for everyone named Nikola, Nikolay, Kolyo, Nikolina, Neno, Nenka, Nikolina or Nina.
    Saint Nikolas is believed to help all the sailors and fishermen. He was born during the third century in Patara, a village in what is now Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. His icon decorates the lighthouse at the entrance to Varna Docks and his church in Varna City. Not only is he the patron of sailors and voyagers, he is known as the friend and protector of all in trouble or need. Saint Nicholas is also the patron and protector of children.
       He is the master of the entire submarine realm - fish and water demons - as well as the sea winds. The autumn fishing season ends on this day. The day's catch is to be offered to the saint. Fishermen eat the first fish caught right on the shore, before bringing the rest home.
     According to the folk-Christian myths, it is Saint Nikolas who makes the winds rage and cease. Saint Nikolas can walk on the seas and whenever there is a ship in trouble, he would save it. Saint Nikolas is the protector of sailors and fishermen, the patron not only of those who bear his name, he is also a personal or family protector. As like the Greek sailors, Bulgarians also keep icons of Saint Nikolas on shipboard seeking protection from storms.

     Sailors' wives put icons of Nikolas into the sea, praying to Saint Nikolas to bring their husbands safely back to shore. On this day a special, family lineage festival is arranged.
   The traditional Nikulden meal in each household is based upon a fish dish - “ribnik” - a carp in dough - is traditional for the holiday. Carp is regarded as Nikolas' servant. There are also two special loaves of bread. The food is blessed at church or at home before being served. After wafting incense over the food, the host raises the bread high, and breaks it in half. One half he keeps, the other is left on the table.

      It is on Saint Nikolas' Day that the table is open to all guests and is not cleared before the day is over. On this holiday - relatives, sponsors and neighbours are invited and a big table is sanctified; the feast day ending up in songs and fun.

 

  

  Varna Saint Nicholas Collection                 Varna Docks Lighthouse

 

   This is one of the biggest family holidays celebrated in the winter.
The holiday honours Saint Nicola - patron of the seas, sailors and fishermen. Bankers and salesmen also honour him as their protector.
    Fish meals are necessarily prepared for the celebration of this day. While scaling the fish women should be careful not to let its scales fall on the floor because it is believed that if someone steps on them this someone may get ill or die. The bones should be burnt, buried in the ground or thrown in the river. They sew the parietal bone in the hats of the children to protect them from sickness and the evil eye. The prepared meals are usually from carp fish, because it is believed that it is "the servant of Saint Nicola". According to the legend once when Saint Nicola went out in the sea with his boat a storm came up and punctured his boat. Saint Nicola caught a carp fish and plugged up the crack. This is how he and his companions were saved.
There are different kinds of bread prepared in honour of the saints: bogovitsa, svetets (saint), kravaj (ring-shaped bun), paraklis (chapel) and nikul bread. Roasted carp fish and ribnik (fish meal) are served as an offering (kurban). The whole carp fish stuffed with rice and grits, with walnuts and raisins is roasted and after censing it is broken up and served. The ribnik is also made of carp fish which is folded into dough and then baked after it is flatten down and oiled. Different patterns can be made on top of it, dough balls and sticks representing the spine, the tail and the eyes of the carp fish can also be stuck on it.
    They leave the table with all the dishes on it all day long. It is available for the guests at any time. Except for the fish and the bread there is also beans stew, stuffed cabbage or vine leaves and other meatless meals, soaked in olive oil or walnuts or sesame oil.
    Church Holiday: the memory of Saint Nicola Mirlikliiski Chudotvirets, also called Nicolaj Ugodnik. He was proclaimed the bishop of town Mir during the time of Emperor Constantine the Great. He dies in 342. As a spiritual father of Mir he bestowed strength and life to the ill and low-spirited. He is renowned for his miracles in saving the sailors and the ships from the sea storm. That is the reason why this day is considered the end of the autumn and winter fishing period. The caught fish is offered as a sacrifice to the saint. At this day all the ships in the open sea stop their voyage to honour the patriot saint.
    Ritual Table: ritual breads, fish and meatless meals.

Another Version from Radio Bulgaria

      The Day of Saint Nicholas, Nikola in Bulgarian, is celebrated on December 6 and is one of the most respected traditional holidays in this country to this very day. In every home a fish dish is prepared for that great day. Saint Nicholas is most popular as patron of the sea, rivers and lakes, of fishermen and sailors. Folk tradition adds that the saint is also the master of winter colds and snow. And he is also revered as the guardian of the family and the family property.
       An ancient legend recounts of a mysterious monastery of Saint Nikola near the village of Chepitovo. All that could be seen from the monastery was a single iron door hidden in a splash of greenery. However the door opened for only few people. Once a village woman was washing nearby, at the lake. All of a sudden the mysterious door swung open for her. The women got in and fearless, went further. Very soon she came across an old man, Saint Nikola himself. He asked her how she had come there, and she told him. "Well, then, the old man said, I'll now show you the underground world." Soon they saw a fairly-tale monastery, built of marble. A treasure of gold coins was being kept in its church. When she was back home, the woman was impatient to tell the story. Now everybody rushed to search for the gold treasure but nobody opened the door, because Saint Nikola was guarding it from greedy eyes. The legend further goes that once the door opened for a poor fisherman. He too saw the wonderful monastery and the treasure, but he told no one of his encounter with Saint Nikola as he was cautious not to trigger human greed for gold. It is believed that two icons have survived in the village from that monastery. They were hanging tied with chains in front of the local inn. Many times Ottoman Turks who then dominated Bulgaria, tried to destroy the icons by throwing them in the lake, but they invariably reappeared. Saint Nikola forecast that when the Bulgarian Christians were liberated from the Ottoman Muslim yoke this fairy-tale monastery would appear in the middle of the village.
      We continue with a similar story sung in a folk song from the region of Sofia. In it Saint Nikola started to build a church that would suit the grandeur of God, with walls of silk and silver, and with a roof of gold. But before finishing the last door, the gold was over. Then Saint Nikola became a monk and went among people. They donated as much as they could, to build the church. However the raised funds were not enough. So, a solution occurred to him. He took his dense fishing-net, threw them in the white sacred sea, and a barbell got caught in it. A priceless stone shone on its head. Saint Nikola took it and completed the magnificent church. And his catch he gave to people, to eat fish and drink wine to the glory of God.
       In the Bulgarian traditional beliefs, Saint Nikola was the son of Saint Andrew, Andrey in Bulgarian whose day is celebrated a week earlier, on the 30th of November.

       Saint Nikola had two sisters - Saint Varvara and Saint Sava. Their days are on 4 and 5 December. To honour Varvara small loaves of bread were prepared, and were given to children to protect them from illness. On the Day of Sava, the baked carp for Saint Nicholas Day was prepared. These three holidays give the start to the Christmas ritual cycle. In some village the Day of Saint Varvara is even known as Women's Christmas. On Saint Nicholas day the dinner table is consecrated with burning incense, just like on Christmas Eve.

 

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