In the previous article I described the custom of name days in Poland and special name days such as the recent St. Andrew’s Day. There is another such holiday ahead of us: December 6: “Mikołajki”. On this day – if they want – all the guys named Mikołaj (Nicholas) celebrate their name day, but this day is better known as Santa’s Nicholas Day / Santa Claus Day – gift-giving day.

Isn’t Christmas Eve a celebration of giving gifts to each other too?

Christmas Eve is something more. It is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, but yes – we give each other gifts on both of these holidays in December. Remember as well that Santa Claus Day is a less significant custom compared to gift giving on Christmas Eve. Observing the traditions of St. Nicholas’ Day is much less frequent.

What is the difference?

On Christmas Eve (sometimes also before or after, if we are unable to see each other on Christmas Eve), we usually give gifts to our most important relatives and these are more serious gifts. In Mikołajki, these are rather modest gifts that we direct to colleagues from work or class from school too – not only for most important relatives. We give children small sweets, for example chocolate Santa Claus. However, we do not always give a gift for St. Nicholas’ Day. It depends on the place. Still others on December 6 simply make wishes.

History and legends

According to legends, young Nicholas, even before being elected bishop, had a greedy and wealthy neighbor who mocked the saint’s piety. God punished a neighbor and made him lose his fortune and fall into extreme poverty. When he could no longer support his family, he decided to sell his three daughters because no one wanted to marry them without receiving a dowry. Nicholas, after long reflection on the texts of the Bible and prayer, decided to save the girls’ virtue. Three times, under the cover of night, he threw money for a dowry for each subsequent sister through the window. After the neighbor has already organized two weddings, he decided to find out where the mysterious money was coming from. He stayed awake all night and was surprised to discover that it was Mikołaj, despised by him, that was throwing money through the window for the third time. He thanked him, embarrassed, and decided to change his life to comply with the commandments. In medieval Western Europe, Saint Nicholas was considered the patron saint of children. In some cities, sources recorded the custom of electing a child bishop in Mikołajki, who symbolically took over power. In the 16th century, a ritual appeared in the British Isles to take the headmaster out of school on that day and take power by the students. It has survived for several centuries in some regions.

Other contemporary St. Nicholas’ Day traditions

In many schools, or even sometimes in larger workplaces, a lottery is held, in which everyone draws “their Santa Claus” whom they give a gift. The drawn person is a secret or not – it depends on the place. It happens that one of the people disguises himself as Santa and gives away these gifts. ​An interesting habit is the Santa Claus advertising block on TV. ​It is an initiative of some television stations in which the income from all commercials broadcast at a certain time is allocated to a chosen purpose – for example, helping children from poorer families.

So, on the occasion of St. Nicholas’ Day, we wish you and all children lots of gifts.

Arek Ozimek


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