Responsible for joy. Zakarpattia celebrates several holidays under the auspices of St. Nicolas and his assistants. The Parade of little Nicolases (Mykolaichyky – in Ukrainian), charity races and hiking tours, a book festival, finally, a holiday atmosphere – we can create a fairy-tale only if we believe in it!
His nose is repolished and he weighs more than he can seem, even without a bag. Everybody dreams to see what is inside. There are many miracles and the best what this place can offer is inside. For example, joy. Uzhhorod is a joyful city (perhaps, due to him?). And there is even more.
He is responsible for joy and kindness here. He has been holding his bag with gifts above the Uzh river for 8 years already. 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He is cold (because made of bronze) but it is just an illusion. I love him like he is my family and rub his nose at least three times a year. And yes, he grants these wishes! He is the Uzhhorod St. Nicolas.
This sculpture was sent to us by St. Nicolas through a sculptor Mykhailo Kolodka. St. Nicolas has the aim: to look after this place and make people believe in miracles. His entrusted official assistant helps him in this. There is no official data about how Uzhhorod Nicolas copes with all these but one thing is known for sure: he is helped. And it has begun since he settled down here.
“It was an ordinary envelope without a mark and a piece of paper, touched postmen showed. A child wrote to St. Nicolas. I decided that I should forward these letters to their destination,” almost a chief assistant of St. Nicolas tells how everything began.
Today, he is a professor of the Uzhhorod National University and a person who is called a “father of a Zakarpattian tourism”, but then he worked in one of Zakarpattian newspapers. In the evening when a new issue was to be published, press distributors gathered in the office. The idea “why not” was a start of good deeds at that time. An action “Letters to Nicolas” in Uzhhorod made “a real St. Nicolas from Rovaniemi” put the Ukrainian flag on his website and write “Saint Nicolas speaks Ukrainian”. It happened when heavy parcels with letters were sent to Lapland, not the first year. It began in 1996.
“There were many letters. One year, there were 12 thousand of them. Children drew, sent gifts for Nicolas. We received these letters, tried to read them till it was real, and sent them to Rovaniemi, to the Santa Claus’s residence. Naturally, the Internet played its role. Today, children send letters mostly online. But all the letters sent to the address known to any Zakarpattia resident and postman who find such a letter in a post box will be directed to Lapland. By the beginning of December, about a thousand letters came. We were responded, yes. When St. Nicolas began officially speaking Ukrainian, we received a letter in a big nice envelope. Lapland also sent us postcards, and we sent them to the children who had written letters to Nicolas.”
“I found out that it took place in New-York. It was a show. We made it with schoolchildren. Who wanted – sew hats and scarves, children wore coats and went out in the streets… They rang bells, gave candies and just greeted passers-by. We filled streets with joy and a holiday atmosphere! It has lasted for 22 years already!”
“The Parade of little Nicolases has witnessed different events: two revolutions and protests. When it was raining, we were under umbrellas, it was snowy and cold, there wasn’t a constant host of the show because I was at the war, but we coped with that… Different things happened. But we had our mood. A holiday mood. And it is still with us. Today new little Nicolases come to the streets – children of our first little Nicolases.”
“This saint is one of the symbols of the Ukrainian nation, every church in Zakarpattia has St. Nicolas’s icons. He is respected by Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic and Orthodox Churches. He connects. This holiday is celebrated in May and the day of this Saint in December. Any interesting event in Zakarpattia is connected with Nicolas that way or another. The Club of a Historical Reconstruction “St. Nicloas’s Order” arranges the “Several Tatosh” festival. The St. Miklosh (St. Nicolas) Castle is a famous tourist attraction of the region. There are many other events and places. We like this holiday. As well as literary events: we picked up the baton and arranged the “Literary Nicolas” and the “Book to the St. Nicolas’s Day” festivals, which takes place for the 12th time this year. It also has such an event as “Writer Behind the Counter”, – people need such an event. And yes, it is also a holiday.”
A little boy looks at it with proud, with joy. A little Nicolas doesn’t care about a heavy bag, he is concerned about good deeds. And it is really so. The Parade of Little Nicolases turned into the Parade of Nicolases. People dressed in red and white hats walk across the city, have photos taken with passers-by, and then bring the atmosphere of kindness to the local children’s hospital. They bring happiness and positive emotions.
“We bring good mood to others. The towns of Mukachevo and Perechyn also have already their own Parades of little Nicolases. This year, we decided to do what we want. We won’t go where we are invited, for example, to an official switching the Christmas Tree’s lights on, we will only arrange our parade and visit the Uzhhorod Children’s Hospital and bring gifts there. And of course, we will announce that holidays came to Uzhhorod, Zakarpattia, Ukraine.”
The holiday story was started by the Uzhhorod Nicolas himself. Before he appeared in the city, there was a legend. According to it, St. Nicolas wrote a letter to the residents of the city and asked to help a little boy to do good. St. Nicolas is in charge of charity. It is the first of 32 sculptures which have become a symbol of Uzhhorod.
After a sculpture of little Nicolas was put on the embankment, on the other side of the Uzh river, other statues appeared – Svobodka, the smallest lighthouse in the world. Each season, more and more mini-sculptures appeared in the city: there are the sculpture of famous and fictional characters as well as symbols of historical events. Now, it is a network of attractions, and each tourist wants to find small sculptures with a great history. By the Nicolas statue, another good event has taken place for seven years: each Sunday, everybody who wants to attend Open City Tours gather there. These are enlightening journeys about the history, architecture, prominent people and sights of Uzhhorod, which became famous across the region.
Each year, there are more new events which take place “under the auspices of St. Nicolas”. Last year, the first Charity Festival of Gingerbread took place. This year, we arranged it again. We also arranged Nicolas Hike – participants were looking for the holiday mood in mountains – and found it. I guess we should wait for new events with the holiday mood and energy of kindness…
Why do I do it? It makes me happy. It is my way to react to everything that is happening, and react positively. Yes, it is a job, it requires resources but there is good feedback, and it is great,” “the chief Nicolas of Zakarpattia” called Fedir says. Due to him, dozens of people joined the Nicolas community. Nicolas also comes to him, “And even twice, because we have Roman as well as Greek Catholics in our family so we celebrate on 5 and 19 December. We have a classic story at home with children. We clean shoes. As gifts, we have tangerines. Nothing extra, just fruit. If I can, I bring exotic fruit from my journeys. On the holiday morning, everybody checks their shoes and eats fruit.”
“Father Frost died in 1991 when the USSR collapsed. While St. Nicolas has big power. Well, in Zakarpattia it is definitely so. We consider him a patron of the region. We know for sure that the fairy-tale exists. Of course, we should help it happen! What does Nicolas dream of? He wants good to win!”
… The Uzhhorod Nicolas slightly smiles. He is little and old, holds his bag behind his back: there are many good deeds and future miracles. Miracles happen. Especially, when we create them…
Text by Alla Khaiatova
Photo by Serhii Hudak