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How St. Nicholas Day Is Celebrated in Poland - Dzien Świetęgo Mikołaja

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Photo of St. Nicholas

Photo of St. Nicholas

Flickr by Schumata
St. Nicholas Day, Dec. 6 -- Dzien Świętego Mikołaja -- starts off the Christmas holidays in Poland. It was eagerly awaited by the children in my family. The night before, we hung up clean white stockings (some families' children set out freshly polished shoes) hoping they would be filled with nuts and tangerines and not coal.

Who Is That Bearded Man?

St. Nicholas was the 4th-century Bishop of Myra in Lycia, what is now a province of Turkey. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, and is associated by some countries with Santa Claus.

In Poland, St. Nicholas -- Święto Mikołaj -- is a saintly, dignified figure. He comes as a bishop in bright vestments, carrying a golden crozier that resembles a shepherd's crook, symbolizing, like shepherds with sheep, that the religious tend their flock of people. (Did you know candy canes originated as a symbol of a crozier? That's one story anyway.)

Descending from heaven with an angel helper, St. Nicholas travels on foot, on horseback or in a sleigh pulled by a white horse as he visits homes in the countryside.

Children are tested on their catechism and rewarded with chocolate-glazed, heart-shaped pierniczki or honey-spice cookies in the shape of St. Nicholas.

On Christmas Eve, children eagerly await the end of the wigilia supper so they can unwrap their presents and discover if they have received what they requested in letters to St. Nicholas.

To order cookie cutters in the shape of St. Nicholas as depicted in many different countries, visit St. Nicholas Center
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