Saint Nicholas (Sviatyi Mylcolai) is one of the most popular saints of the Eastern and Western churches. Little is known about him except that he was bishop of Myra (now in Turkey) in the 4th century, and that he was probably born in Patara (near modern Kalamaki, Turkey). Legends of his charity, especially toward children, and of miracles associated with him, soon spread throughout Europe. In Ukraine the cult of St. Nicholas was probably introduced by Metropolitan Yefrem (1089-98), to whom a popular manuscript on the miracles of St. Nicholas is attributed. According to chronicles a church in St. Nicholos's honor had already been built in Kyiv during the reign of Prince Ihor.
In Ukrainian folk tradition there are two figures known as St. Nicholas. One, "warm Nicholas", was celebrated in the spring, on May 22 (May 9, OS), and the other "old Nicholas", was commemorated in the winter, on December 19 (December 6, OS). The warm Nicholas was considered to be the patron saint of agriculture. He was said to walk the land, examining the sown fields, "drying places over-damp, and dampening those over-dry" after the winter. On the festival, householders would lead their horses into the fields for the first night's grazing, shear sheep, and sow buckwheat. St. Nicholas was called upon to protect livestock from wolves, and his name frequently appeared in shepherds' prayers. He was also a patron of youth, particularly of orphans and poor girls. The latter he was said to assist in preserving their chastity and in seeking a husband.
According to folk tradition the old Nicholas brought the first snow "by shaking his beard". He was considered the patron of spinning, and yarns and thread were often brought to church on his festival 'to add to his beard'. In Western Ukraine gifts were given to children on the eve of his feast day.
St. Nicholas often appears in carols and legends. In Ukraine icons with his image were greatly cherished and found in virtually every home. His icon was also placed in an important position in iconostases, usually flanking Jesus, the Mother of God, or the patron saint of the church.