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You probably think that I got dates mixed up…but no! I didn’t! Kids in Poland are very lucky, because Santa visits them twice in December!
December 6th is St. Nicholas Day, and on St. Nicholas Eve, Mikołaj places gifts under children’s pillows. Alternatively, Mikołaj visits in person, either dressed in elegant bishop’s clothing or in the merry red winter suit typical to the Western Santa Claus. St. Nicholas Day is a fun holiday often enjoyed at schools and offices, while Christmas Eve is spent with family.
According to Polish tradition tonight Święty Mikołaj (Santa Claus) will visit all homes leaving small gifts in shoes, stockings or under pillows. But be aware! If you were naughty, you can expect nothing else than rózga – a twig!
This tradition exists in Poland since the 18th century, however at that time children used to get apples, little wooden crosses, etc. It reminded everyone that Christmas is coming in 3 weeks. However, the Polish name Mikołajki was created during the communism time to give this tradition more secular dimension. Nowadays this holiday is just another great opportunity to buy gifts for friends and family. I remember waking up on December 6th with gifts under my pillow and I loved it!
In some regions, it is Gwiazdor, not Mikołaj, who makes an appearance on Christmas Eve. Gwiazdor is a spirit from generations past, dressed in a sheepskin with his face covered in soot. He carries a bag of gifts and a rod, giving gifts to good children and spankings to bad ones.
The name Gwiazdor is derived from the Polish word for “star,” which is an important symbol on Christmas Eve for a couple of reasons. In addition to the Bible story of the Three Wise Men following a star to the baby Jesus’ birth site in Bethlehem, a popular Polish Christmas tradition has families search for the first star of the evening on Christmas Eve before sitting down to dinner. Christmas in Poland has also been known as “Little Star Day,” or “Gwiazdka.”
And how about you? Have you been naughty or nice this year?