Does everyone know the true story of Santa Claus? Nowadays, he is associated – by children and adults alike – with a red, warm outfit, the same colour hat with a white pompom and a sleigh pulled by magical reindeer. Santa Claus distributes presents, enters homes through the chimney, and eagerly eats the shortbread cookies left for him, which he sips with a glass of milk. Meanwhile, Santa Claus known from history has little in common with the image of a corpulent old man in red clothes.
The real story of Father Christmas
Saint Nicholas, before he was actually canonised as a saint, was the bishop of Myra of Lycia (modern-day Turkey). He lived at the turn of the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. Prayed for by his parents, the boy became a miracle for them. Being a grown man, he became famous for his good deeds.
Since Nicholas was an only child and inherited a considerable fortune from his parents, he decided to help those in need and distributed his goods (not only to children!). He was pious, charitable, good and universally liked.
He was also considered a miracle worker, as evidenced by the many legends about Saint Nicholas. One says that he saved fishermen during a storm with a fervent prayer (hence he is considered the patron saint of sailors). Another says that he interceded on behalf of officials unjustly sentenced to death, saving them from a cruel fate. Still, another that he saved the city from famine.
He died on 6 December. To commemorate this day, Santa Claus Day is now celebrated. His relics are located in the Italian city of Bari. He is the patron saint of many places and professions, and there are many shrines dedicated to him around the world. However, the Bishop of Myra did not wear a hat with a pom-pom and did not walk around with a bag full of toys. In paintings and icons, he is depicted as a slender man clad in a red episcopal robe, with a mitre on his head, a pastoral in one hand and/or a book in the other.
Gifts from Santa Claus
Santa Claus arrived in Poland around 1840 from Germany. However, only children from wealthy homes received toys. Those from poorer families found nuts, apples or small sweets under their pillows.
Nowadays, in most places in Poland (the north, west and centre of the country), Father Christmas also gives presents at Christmas. In some regions, however, old beliefs have been preserved, some dating back to pre-Christian Poland. A Child comes to children in Upper Silesia, and an Angel to those in Lesser Poland and Podkarpacie. A star visits children in Wielkopolska, Kujawy, Warmia and the Lubuskie region. Some toddlers are given presents by “Gwiazdka”, who is described as a girl or boy in a white outfit wandering around in a fancy dress. In the Eastern Borderlands, on the other hand, “Grandfather Frost” (Ded Moroz – associated with Soviet culture – ed.) is popular.