Polish Christmas: Santa who?

I am sure you've all heard about Santa Claus before :) But do you know who he really was? According to the Christian tradition Saint Nicholas a.k.a. Santa Claus was a bishop of Myra. There are many legends regarding his life - most famous is about a man, who lost all his money and was forced to sell his three daughters to a brothel. However, Saint Nicholas sneaked to their house at night and threw three bags of coins to the chimney. The coins scattered and some of them fell into shoes and stockings drying next to a fireplace. In the morning the three girls found the money and could marry wealthy men. Since then Saint Nicholas was always connected with gifts and helping people.

In Polish tradition we celebrate Saint Nicholas day at 6th of December. It’s called mikołajki. That night Święty Mikołaj - Saint Nicholas visits all the good children and leave them small a gifts in their shoes, stockings or under a pillow. 

The tradition of receiving gifts on Christmas Eve is known in Poland for a long time, however, at first it had nothing to do with Santa Claus. It originates from the pagan times and you can read more about it in my post about Polish folk Christmas traditions. As you probably know, the Santa Claus we know - old, plump man, with a beard and a red cape was created in the 20th century in the United States as a Coca-Cola advertisement. They wanted to get children more familiar with Saint Nicholas, but his traditional image wasn’t too friendly and commerce oriented… As you all can tell, it worked pretty well! Now the red hat with white fur is one of biggest symbols of Christmas.

Nowadays in Poland all the children are very lucky and receive gifts twice in December - on 6th and later on 24th. However - and this is the most interesting part of this post - in some Polish regions Santa come to town only on the 6th of December. Have you ever heard about Gwiazdor, Anioł or Dzieciątko?

Gwiazdor is known mostly in Greater Poland (Wielkopolska), Kaszuby and Kujawy. His name originates from one character of traditional Polish carolers group. He is wearing ram’s fur, furry cap, handles a big sack with presents and a rod to discipline naughty children. He also usually carries a big colorful star made of paper - hence the name “Gwiazdor” (polish “gwiazda” means “a star”).

In Silesia Gwiazdka - “a Little Star” brings gifts to the children. In Warsaw it’s not too common, however in Poznań - the capitol of Greater Poland it is very common - for mikołajki - Święty Mikołaj, and for Gwiazdka - Gwiazdor brings the presents.

Apart from that, only now I've realized that in colloquial Polish we often call the Christmas Eve simply “Gwiazdka”. It may be connected with the tradition of awaiting the first star on the sky before the Christmas Eve's dinner.  

I've also heard that in Lesser Poland (Małopolska) Aniołek - “a little angel” leaves presents under the Christmas tree and in Silesia (Śląsk) - Dzieciątko - Baby Jesus. For me, no matter who brings the presents - Święty Mikołaj, Gwiazdor, Aniołek, Gwiazdka or Dzieciątko - it’s the unique Christmas atmosphere that counts!

Oh, I've almost forgotten about the song! But here it comes. It’s Polish version of probably the most famous commercial Christmas song “Holidays are coming” of Coca-Cola. It’s called “Coraz bliżej święta” and it's performed by Ania Szarmach.