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Saint Nicholas and My Baba

St. Nicholas
St. Nicholas

Today is St. Nicholas Day. It was kind of a big deal for Ukrainian Canadian prairie kids when I was growing up. There was usually a St. Nicholas Day concert put on by the Sisters who taught after-school Ukrainian school. Sometimes there would be a parish dinner or supper as well.

St. Nick would make an appearance in his bishop’s mitre and robes. Bishop’s staff in hand, he’d present each child with a brown paper treat bag filled with goodies—nuts and hard ribbon candy and a Christmas orange, which was extra special. Christmas was the only time we saw mandarins from Japan!

St. Nicholas Day was an especially big deal for kids—like me—who had a dad named Nick. (My dad was born on December 19, St. Nicholas Day on the Julian calendar.). We would get real presents from St. Nicholas, not just candy and treats.

Unlike Santa Claus, who only left presents, St. Nicholas left letters with the gifts he brought to our house. Addressed from heaven, his missives would tell us we were good children and remind us of things we should work at improving. (Funny how St. Nicholas had the same beautiful penmanship as Mama…)

I’ve kept the letters St. Nicholas wrote my son, but I sure wish I had the ones he wrote me.

When I got older, St. Nicholas Day acquired other memories. My baba Fill (my mom’s mom) died on December 6. It’s fitting, somehow, that my golden-hearted baba died on the feast day of the generous saint.

I gave myself a bit of a shock today when I realized how long it’s been since Baba died. I thought it was 33 years ago. Turns out it was 43 years.

I miss Baba as much as ever, but she left a precious gift.

My baba, Pauline (neé Hewko) Fill

The year before she died, Baba self-recorded the story of her life, in Ukrainian. I’ve had her reminiscences transcribed. Now I’m (finally!) translating them into English to share with the grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren who never got to meet her. I know Baba’s story is a gift they’ll cherish as much as I do.

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