Christmas is coming closer and closer, so the time is ripe to bring you up to date with a very serious issue of Christmas-related presents and explain who actually brings them in Poland. Are you ready to meet Polish Marvellous 6?
Let’s start with someone who you know best, the good old Santa Claus. He is, of course, helped by a bunch of other magical creatures, mostly the elves who in Poland are believed to be responsible for collecting all the sweet letters that children write to Santa. It is enough to leave your letter on the windowsill and it is magically gone in no time! But here comes the first surprise. In Poland, Santa comes early — on December the 6th. We call it Mikołajki. In the Christian churches, on this day falls the feast of St. Nicholas of Myra. He was the bishop of the town of Myra who lived in the 3-4th century and gave the basis for building a myth of Santa Claus.
He is said to have distributed all the wealth his deceased parents possessed to the poor, and legends are mentioning his habit of secret gift-giving. This all somehow (with a big role played by the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Coca-Cola company) led to the creation of the image we all know today: a corpulent, jolly, white-bearded Santa, usually wearing glasses, dressed in a red coat and trousers trimmed with white fur carrying a sack full of presents.
In Poland, Santa visits children on the eve of his name day (by the way, name days are quite big in our country!) and leaves presents under their pillow or under their bed. And it is not all of his duties! After this very busy night, on December 6th, he visits children in kindergartens and primary schools. It can be a bit terrifying event, judging by the old photos of us sitting on Santa’s lap and crying...
Mikołajki is only a warm-up! Now we come to the real game changer — the fellowship of the magical creatures who bring presents on Christmas Eve. Yes, not on Christmas Day but on Christmas Eve! That is how things are done in Poland!
Who are you waiting for on Christmas Eve depends on the region of Poland you come from. Kids in western Poland are for instance far ahead of one David Bowie as the Starman, in Polish Gwiazdor, has been bringing presents there for ages! The figure of Starman originates from the old carolling groups, who would go from house to house singing Christmas songs. One of them would always carry a staff with a star on top of it, hence the name. Traditionally, it is a figure wearing a sheepskin and a fur hat, with the face hidden under a mask or smeared with soot.
Me, I was always waiting for Gwiazdka, the Little Star. She brings presents to the good children in southern Poland. Why Little Star? Well, don’t we all look for the first star in the sky to start the Christmas Eve feast? Didn’t the Three Kings follow the star to Bethlehem?
My mom, on the other hand, comes from central Poland, and she would sometimes confuse us by saying that if we won’t behave Aniołek, the Little Angel, will not visit us. This character is also part of carolling groups that you can still meet in many regions, especially smaller towns and villages of Poland, visiting houses during Christmastime.
Both the Little Star and the Little Angel fly by, invisible to children's eyes, and secretly leave gifts under the Christmas tree.
If you ever spend Christmas time in Silesia, you will be surprised by how special this region is — it is a place where Baby Jesus (Dzieciątko) himself brings children gifts. On the other hand, going to the other side of Poland, close to the border with Belarus, you can occasionally meet an older guy called Grandfather Frost, in Polish Dziadek Mróz.
Interestingly, in the original version of his myth, deeply entrenched in pagan tradition, he is quite a scary figure, capturing children, freezing people and demanding… gifts from the desperate parents wanting to have their little ones back. Fortunately, a change of hearts must have happened to him, and now he is often being helped by his granddaughter, Snowflake or Snow Maiden, in Polish Śnieżynka and is indeed a benevolent creature.
Being an important part of Russian culture, Grandfather Frost penetrated into some Eastern Polish areas during the times of communism. Back then, propaganda even attempted to replace Santa with him. Authorities insisted on using this figure in schools and preschools during celebrations and events for children. This was also supposed to create an illusion of cultural links between Poland and the Soviet Union.
Let’s count. We now have 5 figures. This leaves us with the last magical being — dwarfs. These little fellas bring presents to the children living in the areas of Poland close to the border with Ukraine.
And there is one thing to mention — in Poland we have a solution for naughty kids as well! Believe it or not, but if they don’t behave, someone (Santa, Starman, you name it…) brings them birch! So, “you better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout” or you will get a birch!
After reading all this you may come to the conclusion that it is worth being a good child in Poland — not only do you get your presents delivered by those remarkable creatures, but you are also being gifted twice! And now go and ask Polish parents what they think about it! 😉