With December and the freezing weather, one of the most beautiful times of the year comes to our little big city. A peaceful atmosphere with slower pace and crowded markets full of delicious food. Drinks and cheerful mood and full shopping malls. These are however not the only indications that Christmas is around the corner. Slovakia’s long and rich tradition awakens – and especially children get excited about the upcoming four weeks of Advent. And within Advent, the first checkpoint you should remember is the 6th December. Why is it so? Have you already heard of Slovak St Nicholas called Mikuláš (pronounced as something like Meeckulash)? How do Slovaks celebrate this day? What not to forget? Read the basic information about this nice small tradition and prepare yourself for its celebration.
HISTORY OF CELEBRATING MIKULAS
The customs related to the day of St Nicholas have been evolving into its today’s form for centuries. Its celebration relates to the belief in prosperity and Mikuláš was viewed as the protector in many ways. Merchants used to close important and complicated deals on this day. In some areas, he was considered as the patron of happy marriage. Single girls prayed to him to meet their Mr Big. According to another legend, he was reviving the murdered children (pretty morbid, we know). This resulted in the folk belief that he brings children and helps women in labour.
MIKULAS CELEBRATION TODAY
Today, the only custom still pertaining to Mikuláš is about presenting children with sweet treats. On the 5th December, in the evening prior to the Day of St Mikuláš, a man with white beard visits Slovak children accompanied by an angel and a devil. The children are supposed to clean their boots and place them in the windows. In the morning, on the 6th December, they will find a surprise in them from Mikuláš. If they were good throughout the year, it will be sweet treats. Chocolate figures, clementines, whole peanuts with the shell or an advent calendar with 24 chocolates for each day of Advent. If they were however misbehaving, they will find coal and onions in their boots.
Mikuláš wears a traditional bishops costume, consisting of a red coat with fur and hood, a tall bishop cap and a special Bishop stick. In the past, Mikuláš used to have a numerous group of companions which was later reduced to an angel wearing a white shirt and a devil with a long black fury coat and chain with bells around his waist. Children also used to pray to Mikuláš to deserve a treat, and there used to be many markets organized, selling pastry, dried fruits, small toys and clay figurines. Nowadays kindergartens and schools often organize Mikuláš celebrations with real people dressed as this famous trio and bringing sweets. Children do not pray anymore, however recite poems or sing songs to deserve the treats.
Be careful because we also have Dedo Mráz (kind of Santa) or the little Jesus – both bring presents on Christmas Eve. Even though they are similar to Mikuláš, they represent different personas of our rich Slovak folklore.
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL MIKULAS PACKAGE LOOK LIKE?
Below is a crash course on what a typical sweets package given on Mikuláš usually contains. The focus is on Slovak products which could not miss in the past and are still very popular. We have also mentioned a few things that are historically traditional.
- Clementines – older generations of Slovaks remember times when they had to wait in long queues to get clementines for Christmas and there was a restriction for everyone to buy only a kilo of them. It became a kind of tradition to keep them included in the package even today.
- Snehulky – Slovak Snehulky are mint candies which started their journey in 1969 in Czechoslovakia as first fresh breath keepers in socialism era. They have a very specific consistency which melts easily and smoothly in the mouth!
- Kávenky – coffee flavoured biscuit on the market since 1961.
- Horalka – probably the best Slovak biscuit, with peanut flavour and ruling the market since 1965. It was unusual because of a creative way of how to drench the biscuit in the chocolate – not as the whole but only on the edges.
- Tatiana – best chocolate with a hazelnut flavour from Figaro production.
- Rumba – Tatiana’s sister from Figaro family made out of dark chocolate with alcohol/rum aroma.
- Nugát – another Figaro product with a hazelnut paste and a nougat taste.
- Peanuts with shell – it is just the way we remember it from the childhood.
- Golden chocolate coins – for the prosperity.
- Venčeky – biscuits with egg or cocoa flavour, originally coated in powdered sugar which melted on the tongue.
- Lina – they started to produce it in 1988 as a high-end quality product wrapped in luxurious silver wrapping. Delicious with creamy chocolate taste and covered in dark chocolate with pieces of peanuts.
- Mila – a very tasty creamy biscuit which they started to produce in 1969. Interestingly, it had no package at the beginning, only an ordinary paper with an etiquette.
- Chocolate figurine – representing Mikuláš, devil or angel – never missing and never tasty.
- Deva – a Belgian milk chocolate with a milk & rum filling with the tradition since 1951.
- Doxy – colourful and somewhat hard to chew candies with cute pictures and fruit-sour taste.
- Advent Calendar – with 24 little chocolates to be eaten every day during the Advent period, with the last and the biggest one on Christmas Eve
- Miňonky – Czech product but still very popular!
- Besipky – another popular candy product since socialism and still available on the market.
Where are you from and how do you celebrate Mikulas? Post in the comments traditions typical for your country.
Author: Zuzana Mytna