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Santa Claus in Poland

The Polish Mikolaj and Gwiazdor Traditions

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Mikolaj, the Polish Santa Claus

Mikolaj, the Polish Santa Claus

CC BY-NC-ND antoni.katowice
The Polish Santa is named Mikolaj, or St. Nicholas, and it is on his feast day that children receive presents. In some regions of Poland, Gwiazdor stands in for Mikolaj on December 24th.

Mikolaj

December 6th is St. Nicholas Day, and on St. Nicholas Eve, Mikolaj places gifts under children's pillows. Alternatively, Mikolaj visits in person, either dressed in elegant bishop's clothing or in the merry red winter suit typical to the Western Santa Claus.

Sometimes, gifts are accompanied by a switch to remind children to be good. Mikolaj may make an additional appearance on Christmas Eve. If Mikolaj doesn't visit a child's house, he may appear at Polish Advent services to bestow treats to good children.

Gwiazdor

In some regions, it is Gwiazdor, not Mikolaj, who makes an appearance on Christmas Eve. Gwiazdor is very different from the St. Nicholas or Father Christmas Santa Claus character. He is a spirit from generations past who is dressed in a sheepskin and his face is covered in soot. This figure carries a bag of gifts and a rod. He bestows good children with gifts and bad children with a spanking. The name Gwiazdor is derived from the Polish word for “star,” which is an important symbol on Christmas Eve – A popular Polish Christmas tradition is observed when families search for the first star of the evening on Christmas Eve before sitting down to dinner.
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