The Slovak modern Saint Nicholas.
photo: Ján Svrček
Children usually fall asleep while waiting up for Mikuláš. But this year they will have to a chance to see him during waking hours. Mikuláš will appear at the outdoor skating rink in front of the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava at 16:00 December 5. He will turn on the lights of the 18-metre-high Christmas tree nearby and distribute more than 10,000 pieces of candy to children. Then he will concede the stage to Slovak bands, actors and comedians.
Svätý Mikuláš is the Slovak version of the name Saint Nicholas. But his legend has come to mean different things in different countries. Bishop Mikuláš lived in the 4th century and was known for his generosity to children, students and the poor. Five centuries later the Church made December 6 a holiday in his memory.
Over the years, in some western countries - including the US - Saint Nicholas came to be synonymous with Santa Claus, the jolly, round and rosy-cheeked man who drove a sled of reindeer, snuck down chimneys and left presents under trees on Christmas Eve. In Slovakia, that task was left to Ježiško (little Jesus), or the Russian import Dedo Mraz during communism. Mikuláš stayed put on December 6, distributing candy and spreading generosity. Only his appearance has gradually come to match Santa Claus's.
"In the 1960's, when I was born, men dressed as Mikuláš wore a bishop's outfit, not clothes resembling the western Santa Claus or the Russian Dedo Mraz," said Slovak ethnographer Zuzana Beňušková. "Mikuláš was simply a man who had done good."
On the night of December 5, according to Slovak tradition, Mikuláš walks through towns and villages with a basket of candy accompanied by an angel and the devil. The angel reaches into the basket and distributes candy to the good children, the devil frightens and punishes those who have misbehaved.
Although Mikuláš will be in Bratislava to distribute candy in person, to get into the Slovak holiday spirit, have your children clean their boots and set them by the window, then stuff them with candy during the night.
By Zuzana Habšudová