Saint Nicholas: Joy for Children, Comfort for Seamen

Saint Nicholas: Joy for Children, Comfort for Seamen

Just like any other part of Christian world by the sea, Split and Dalmatia worship Saint Nicholas as a patron saint of seamen, passengers, but among others also of children. In the old days, children in Split were awaiting for Saint Lucia Day with much bigger expectations, she was the one bringing gifts ahead of Christmas.
Still, Saint Nicholas is important part of faith and spirit in Dalmatia. After all, there are churches dedicated to this saint everywhere, including two small ones in Split. The one in Marjan forest park is especially important, more than 800 years old, and site of traditional services on Saint Nicholas Day. The second one, locally known as Saint Mikula, standing in picturesque neighbourhood of Veli Varoš is among oldest churches in Split, and I must say, one of my favourites. Both of those little jewels date back to days when Saint Nicholas' cult was just established.
Customs connected with Saint Nicholas sometimes are quite interesting, with processions, bringing gifts to good kids and sticks to those who were bad, there are special prayers, ceremonies commemorating seamen who lost their lives, or masses to protect those still sailing. Probably the most famous tradition in Dalmatia is burning a fishing boat in Komiža on island Vis, and in some other places there are numerous legends of fishermen and seamen saved after prayer to Nicholas. Although today many connect this day and this saint mostly to children, if there is anything we can connect with him, than it's sea. What else, when we live by the sea, of the sea, and with the sea. After all, iconography often shows Nicholas with an anchor or a ship next to him.
Gifts for children for St Nicholas' day in Split are not such a long tradition. Of course, in a region with a history as rich as in Dalmatia "not such a long tradition" is very relative, usually going back some 150 years. It's just enough not to miss filling your kids' sock or a boot. It doesn't need to be anything fancy, in old days children would get some nuts, or an orange, some simple sweet treat. And yes, there was a "treat" if parents wanted to tell them they could behave. Nothing dangerous or serious, onion was just enough as a "warning". Don't worry, something sweet would always follow, nobody wants to see kids disappointed. To create a proper atmosphere, let them clean their boots (or hang some of those holiday socks on their window) and prepare it for gifts. There is nothing nicer than looking at kids faces when getting some presents from the boot. With COVID-19 pandemic a lot of joyful events will be cancel on this day, but that's another reason why you should try to make this day as good as possible for children.
On the other hand, it's always interesting to visit local churches on this day. Church of Our Lady of Pojišan traditionally hosts a mass for seamen and all people living off the sea. When inside, take a look of paintings and ship models given to the church as a vow, a gift to the Saint to lay his protection upon their loved ones. Not so far from there, at Katalinića brig, there is a memorial to all those who lost their lives on the sea. Right place to contemplate. When you do that, walk up the Marjan to old churches I mentioned before. As I mentioned in one of my older blogs, Marjan is a place where soul of Split is hidden.

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