The custom of sprouting wheat on St. Nicholas Day is a custom of the Serbian Orthodox Church. This custom is one of the many home celebrations and traditions that integrate , the life of the Church into the life of the family. This custom is one of ihe first among many in preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Christ.
In the sprouting of wheat there are many symbols of the Gospel, Christ and His birth. The first symbol we see is in the size of the grain of wheat; it is very small and when it sprouts it is close to a hundred times its size. From this we should recall the Gospel message about faith; if you had the faith of a mustard seed you could do great and marvelous things. When we look at the wheat berry it is hard to believe or have faith that it is going to become something.
The next symbol we see is the white shoot coming out of the wheat berry as it sprouts. This shows the purity of Christ's birth. That he was born of the Virgin, who did not know a man and that she remained a virgin after His birth.
The third symbol is the green growth from the wheat berry; in this we are reminded of two distinct things.- First we see the wheat berry change its form to the point that it is almost unrecognizable. In this we are reminded of the Gospel message of that a seed cast upon the ground must die and rise again. Thus, we are given an image of the Resurrection the purpose of Christ's birth; our salvation.
We must also recall that many times Christ appeared to His disciples and they barely recognized Him. The second thing is that we are reminded of our new life in Christ, which was given to us by His birth, by the new life we see before us in the growing wheat.
The fourth symbol deals with the color of the wheat, green. Green is the color used by the Church to symbolize of new life and growth. Additionally, green is used by the Church as the symbol of Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit. Thus, the Comforter would not have been granted to us had Christ not come into the world, died, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.
In the growing wheat we see a fifth symbol, that of the creative force. Thus, we are reminded of the Father's creation of the world by speaking. The Word, the Son of God is this creative force.
Our caring for the wheat reminds of God's Love for the world. Without our care the wheat would die, so without God's Love for us we are dead. God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son into the World for its salvation.
The next symbol is that of the candle that is placed in the center of the sprouting wheat. We are reminded that Christ is the light of the world that illumines all things.
The final symbols deals with what happens to the wheat prior to the Holy Supper on the eve of the Feast of Nativity. The top of wheat is trimmed to an even height and it is girded with a ribbon, in Serbian tradition the red, blue and white of the Serbian flag. These two actions are to remind us that we are under God, and are bound to follow His Law (Commandments) in obedience to him.
This sprouted wheat is used to decorate the home and used as a centerpiece for the Holy Supper. In this we see images of the Trinity, the Nativity, the Gospel messages and our way of life as Orthodox Christians. In this small tradition we can see how our Faith must be lived and experienced daily and integrated into our way of being. That life can not be compartmentalized into the realms of secular and holy but must be united in order to grasp the true meaning of Christianity.
One or two days before St. Nicholas Day pray to God that this wheat will sprout well and soak the raw uncooked wheat berry's, obtained from a health food store or other source, in water (or in a dilute mixture of water and Miracle Grow for best results).
Before starting read or sing the tropars to St. Nicholas and Nativity. On St. Nicholas Day drain the water from the wheat. Take a plate or a pie tin and place a candle sick holder in the center. Then spread the soaked wheat berry evenly over the surface of the plate or pie tin.
Keep the wheat in a warm sunny place. Lightly mist about once a day or once every other day being careful not to over or under water. If the wheat is over watered it will mold and smell bad so, use water sparingly.
If the wheat does not get enough water it will look dry and the sprouts will wither and die. However, it is easier to recover from under watering than over watering. On the eve of Nativity trim the wheat to an even level and tie a ribbon around the outside. Continue to water as above until the leave taking of the Feast.