I have been seeing more posts and articles online this year about St. Nicholas Day, and each has their own slant. However, I learned about St. Nicholas Day when we lived in Romania. Our kids wanted to celebrate along with all the other kids in Romania, and as parents, it didn’t hurt our feelings at all to be nice to our kids, so we celebrated it too even though we were Americans in Romania. On the evening of December 5th, children clean their shoes and set them by the front door. During the night, St. Nicholas is supposed to put fruit and, or candy in the shoes, and the kids are happy the next morning. Many people think that St. Nicholas and Santa Claus are the same person, but in Romania, they aren’t.
The Romanians told me that St. Nicholas is Santa’s poor brother. He wants to take part in the Christmas celebration too, so he comes early and leaves goodies for kids with clean shoes.
In fact, in Romania, under Communism, the government tried to do away with Santa Claus. Ceausescu and the Communists who were in charge in Romania for so many years wanted to get rid of any trace of Christianity in Romania. It was one of the biggest mistakes they ever made because the Romanian people still held God in their hearts, and secretly in their homes even though they didn’t frequent church. If they went to church, they couldn’t advance in the Communist party which meant that their lives were really hard. The ones who went to church ended up pulling water from wells, using outhouses, cooking and heating with wood, and may not have even had electric lights in their houses. The government kept the religious man down. And, it seemed the religious man and the compassionate thinking human beings are the ones who threw Communism out of Romania.
The way Communism effected Christmas was by trying to take away Santa Claus unsuccessfully. They all knew that the original Santa was a rich man turned priest over in Turkey, and they wanted every vestige of Christianity gone, so the Communists called Santa “Old Man Ice” trying to disassociate him with Christianity.
The word for Christmas in Romanian is Craciun (pronounced: crahchoon). Those of us who understand the word “Christmas” know that it literally means “the worship of Christ.” In the Catholic church, “mass” means a worship service. The Romanians call Santa Claus “Mos Craciun” (pronounced: mosh crahchoon). “Mos” means “old man,” so that makes “Mos Craciun” mean “the old man of the worship of Christ.” As for “Old Man Ice,” it is said “Mos Gheata” in Romanian which is literally “Old Man Ice.” (In Romanian, that “s” in “Mos” has a comma attached to the bottom of it that makes it sound like “sh.”)
Romania has one of the oldest Christian traditions in the world. One of the apostles originally brought Christianity to Romania. The Communists were unable to get rid of Christianity in Romania. In fact, after the revolution, Christianity has come back in full force in Romania. I am always seeing reports even now of missionaries as well as Romanians teaching Bible classes in Romania.
Orthodoxy is the state religion in Romania, and there is a big Orthodox seminary right in the heart of the country in Sibiu where I taught. However, I am not Orthodox, but merely a Christian. Another big group of Christians in Romania are the Catholics. There are also Lutherans in Romania, and have been there since the time of Martin Luther. The other group of Christians, the Orthodox call “Pocaiti’ meaning “repenters.” They are churches like Baptists, Pentecostals, Church of the Brethren, etc. When they see one another, they have a special greeting “Pacea” which means “peace.” The church of Christ was brought to Romania after the revolution and are not considered Pocaiti even though they also repent. The Pocaiti are distinguished from the Orthodox, Catholics, and Lutherans because they are extremely strict. They only listen to religious music. They don’t wear blue jeans. The women wear dresses, no jewelry, no make up, no nail polish, and cover their heads with a head scarf. The church of Christ is just basic Christianity that came from an idea in America that we should all go back to the beginning and restore the church as it once was in the first century, and all the churches should come together as one and abolish the sects. The people in the church of Christ don’t wear head scarfs, but do wear blue jeans, listen to lots of music, etc. They are not as radical as the Pocaiti because the Pocaiti became that way just trying to survive under Communism. Romanians are serious about their Christianity. Before I went to Romania, I read an article called “The Spark of the Revolution,” and it about the kidnapping of a Methodist priest in Timnisoara by the Securitate (Secret Police), and the people just wouldn’t put up with it and went into the streets to march and fought back. the Romanian people felt sick because Ceausescu was having all the church buildings knocked down, and the advent of the revolution saved many of these beautiful Christian historic relics. You can tour Romania today and visit many old beautiful church buildings.
Communism also couldn’t get rid of St. Nicholas (in Romanian Sfantu Nicholai). December 5th, the kids cleaned their shoes up and put them at the door, and on the 6th, the kids were pulling fruit and candy from their shoes and the Christmas (Craciun) season officially began. Santa’s poor brother officially begins the season of giving, love, and peace on earth in Romania all leading up to December 25th when there will be more than candy and fruit for the kids, gifts, and a beautiful Christmas tree (Pom de Craciun). However, if kids are bad, I have heard in Romania that Mos Craciun (Old Man Christmas/ Santa Claus) could bring switches instead of gifts, so everyone better be good!