Saint Nicholas is without a doubt one of the “rock stars” of saints — venerated and known worldwide. Also called Nikolaos of Myra, he was Bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor became a historic 4th-century Christian saint. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as “Nikolaos the Wonderworker”. He died on December 6, 343 at age 73. In 1087, Italian merchants stole his body from Myra, bringing it to Bari, Italy where a major shrine was established, La Basilica di San Nicola.
Nicholas had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him and over time, Nicholas became the model for Santa Claus, (whose modern name comes from Saint Nikolaos and the Dutch “Sinterklaas”).
The celebration of San Nicolò in Trieste began at the end of the 17th century with the establishment of the free port and with the influx of traders from the Middle East. The establishment in the city of a large Greek community gave rise not only to the Church of San Nicolo on Trieste’s waterfront in the late 1700s, but also to a flea market in the streets of Trieste on the feast of St. Nicholas on the 6th of December.
In fact, the tradition that reigns still today in Trieste (and in Gorizia, Friuli, Istria and South Tyrol — areas formerly under the Austro-Hungarian empire) is that on the evening of December 5th, you gather with loved ones and celebrate with a nice meal, then set out a place with some food for San Nicolo’. In the olden days, San Nicolo’ brought nuts and tangerines wrapped in tin foil (to make them look festive). Nowadays, on the morning of the 6th, good children find presents, tangerines and sweets while more michievous ones find sugar coal.
For many years this was the main holiday in Trieste, while Christmas was a more somber religious holiday. In later years came the celebration of Santa Claus — in Italy he is called “Babbo Natale” (Father Christmas) an entirely different fellow from San Nicolo’. Some families give little presents on San Nicolo’ and bigger gifts on Christmas. Others give wishlist presents on San Nicolo’ and gifts from family and friends on Christmas. Whatever your tradition, from mid-November through December Trieste is in full holiday mode — filled with Christmas lights, Christmas markets, gifts, events with family and friends and a blend of traditions. Even the traditional San Nicolo’ Market started by the Greeks is still celebrated with a large event in the Viale XX Settembre during the first week of December where San Nicolo’ shows up with a large bag of sweets to hand out to the children.
Just another reason to love this City of ours!
P.S. – In case you were curious, La Befana, who in some parts of Italy is celebrated on Jan. 6 is not commonly celebrated in Trieste.
P.S.S. – Thanks to the friends of “Te son de Trieste Se” FB page for all their input!