December 6 marks a very special day for children in Poland, as it is St Nicholas’ Day, or Mikołajki, when the man himself visits all the boys and girls that have been good through the year and secretly brings them small gifts. In this way, children in Poland are essentially visited by St Nicholas twice each year, as Western customs have over time brought with them the tradition of gift giving and receiving on Christmas Eve. However in some regions in Poland, it is believed that gifts on Christmas Eve are delivered by an Angel (aniołek), the Little One (Dzieciątko, or Baby Jesus), or even a Starman (Gwiazdor), as Święty Mikołaj is tired after his big trip on December 6th.
Mikołajki traditions have been carried out for many centuries, and mark the start of the Christmas holidays in Poland. The day celebrates Święty Mikołaj, the patron saint of children, who was a Bishop in Myra (nowadays a province in Turkey) in the 4th century, known for his generosity towards those in need, and had a reputation for secret gift-giving.
Leading up to December 6th, children will write letters to St Nicholas to tell him that they have been well behaved, and to include a “wishlist” of the small gifts they’d like to receive on the day. As tradition goes, on the morning of Mikołajki, children will find gifts under their pillows, on windowsills and even in their shoes!
To celebrate this joyous gift-giving occasion, many families also choose to decorate their homes and display their Christmas trees for Mikołajki, as they prepare for the exciting Christmas season ahead.