On the 6th of December Bulgaria acknowledge Sveti Nikola (St Nichola´s Day), the patron saint of fishermen, sailors, merchants and prisoners. Nikulden marks the start of the Christmas and New Year ritual cycle. It is also the name day of Nikola, Nikolay and Nikolina, which are very popular names. Over all, this is a day of celebration among many people in Bulgaria!
As St Nichola is the patron of fishermen, the Bulgarian folklore cherish him as the master of the seas, river, lakes, fishes, storm demons, mermaids, the sea nymphs as well as the underwater world. He is usually portrayed as an old man with white beard that helps sailors in trouble, but sometimes he is portrayed as a young man possessed of remarkable physical strength. Traditionally the fishermen and sailors avoid the sea on this particular day in order to respect St Nichola. Instead they go to the church with special offerings that includes wreaths of greenery that after the blessings are being thrown into the sea as a memory for those who drowned.
The legends tell us that St Nichola has big wings of gold on which he flew over the oceans and seas. It is also believed that he brought the first snow as he was shaking his beard the snowflakes were falling to the ground. In the Christian mythology it is said that St Nichola was given the the seas, rivers, lakes and all water-dwelling when God was separating the Earth from the sky.
There are many stories of St Nichola deeds, one of them tell us about a man and a woman who started out for Mount Athos, God decided to give them a sign an the Black Sea froze. They started to pray and promised to build a church out of frankincense and a barrel of wax, and as they promised this God unfroze the sea, and they started to sail towards Mount Athos. The man broke his vow, the boat sank and St Nichola came to rescue the woman but the man drowned as he had broke his promise to God.
On Nikulden it is tradition to eat carp -or any other fish fish. As you are eating the carp you should take a bone from the fish and pick your teeth with it as a ritual for health. After that it is very important that you either burn the bone, buries it or throw it into the water. The cross-shaped bone in the carps head should however be saved as it is believed to scare evil spirits away.
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