Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
Many Poles celebrate Saint Nicholas Day, hiding presents under the pillows. Many, however, still prepare presents on 25th of December. Although this is what American and European tradition associates with Santa Claus (the man in red that is compared to or maybe confused with Saint Nocholas), Polish children – depending on the region – believe in different characters that bring the gifts and put under the Christmas Tree.
Father Frost (Dziadek Mroz)
It is a character that derives from East Slavic folklore, however, it was popularized during existence of the Soviet Union. In the People’s Republic of Poland Father Frost has been popularized as a replacement of Saint Nicholas. It was one of the steps of the attempts to eliminate Christmas (as a Christian tradition) in favour of the New year. As a part of propaganda, Father Frost was supposed to give Polish children impression of cultural links with the Soviet Union.
Father Frost would wear ‘uszanka’ – specific Russian fur cap known also as a trooper. The fur that he wears may be red (as Santa Claus’) but it may be as well blue or silver. He does not have a belt but a string while his beard tends to be very long. There are no reindeers that assist him – but horses – and he never enters the house through the chimney (as American Santa Claus) but he simply knocks on the door and gives presents personally or leaves them under the Christmas Tree. The Snow Maiden – who helps Father Frost to distribute the presents – is his god daughter.
The Star (Gwiazdor)
One would like to translate this one as the Star Man – as it has male version in Polish language. This character is especially known in regions such as Great Poland or Kuyavia (specifically the regions that used to be within Prussia during the Partition) and Kashubia. The name derives from Christmas Carol Singers that would carry the Star with them. It was a character dressed in ram’s fur and wearing fur cap. His face was usually dirty with soot. The Star would carry a bag with presents and birch.
The Star would check if the children were good enough to get presents and would check if they know the prayers by heart. Although Santa Claus tradition has been popularized, in the above mentioned regions it is the Star Man that still exists in the minds of the children.
Child Jesus (Dzieciatko Jezus)
In Upper Silesia it is the Child Jesus that brings presents for Christmas.
The Angel (Aniolek)
In Lesser Poland in is believed that a small angel brings the presents.
No matter what a certain region believes in, the children get excited to get presents under the Christmas Tree on the night of 24th/25th of December each year.