Poland celebrates ‘name days’ even more than birthdays. Each day in the Polish calendar has two or three names assigned to it. Most calendars sold here have names written in, just like an American calendar would have a holiday written up. I learned that a general rule of thumb here is that you celebrate birthdays until your 30th, and then not to be reminded of your age you simply switch to celebrating your name day.
To make this story work, I also have to mention that Santa is called St. Nicholas here, or “Święty Mikołaj” in Polish. And on December 6th, you guessed it, Nicholas has his name day. This, boys and girls, is how we get an extra day of presents in the Polish calendar. But that’s not all, because the presents we get on Christmas Day are not from Santa at all…allow me to explain.
To begin with, we open our presents on Christmas Eve, and don’t wake up to presents on Christmas Day. And we don’t call them Santa’s presents either, but loosely translated, we would call them “The First Star” present, Gwiazdka in Polish. Our parents would tell us to look out the window on Christmas Eve and keep an eye out for the first star, and as soon as it appeared, we would run back to the Christmas tree to find it full of presents. It’s not Santa, it’s The First Star.
It all somehow makes sense here. I get confused myself and only while writing this up it came to me that Santa doesn’t stop by twice in Poland, although according to Wikipedia Polish children are some of the most frequent Santa writers in the world. My uncle is dressing up as Santa tonight to carry presents to my smallest cousin Gosia, he always had a costume that would scare the crap out of me and my cousins.