St. Nicholas, called Sw. Mikolaj, is a saintly, dignified figure in Poland; he comes as a bishop, carrying a crozier. In the weeks leading up to December 6th, children write letters to St. Nicholas telling how well they have behaved and including some hints as to what would make a perfect present.
Descending from Heaven with an angel helper, he travels on foot or in a sleigh pulled by a white horse as he visits homes in the countryside. When he appears, the eager children cry, “He has come! He has come!” St. Nicholas’ presence fills the room with his smile, the twinkle in his eye, and his welcoming, booming voice. Children recite their catechism and prayers.
St. Nicholas rebukes or praises, as appropriate, before distributing holy pictures, red apples or oranges, and pierniki (saint cookies made with honey and spices). If he doesn’t come in person, treats are put under sleeping children’s pillows or left in freshly cleaned and polished shoes left out for the saint and found as if by magic in the morning.
Adults may also give gifts on St. Nicholas Day, but are more apt to do so on Christmas Eve.
St. Nicholas acts in his traditional religious role as a protector and patron saint while encouraging Polish children to be well-behaved, as there are switches for naughty children.
On Christmas children eagerly await the end of Wigilia (Christmas) dinner, for then they will unwrap their presents and discover if they have received what they requested in letters to St. Nicholas. Sometimes the good saint appears again, asking questions to determine how the children have behaved. Then he distributes the gifts and quietly disappears to visit other excited children.
Rabka, the most famous children’s health resort in Poland, has a special relationship to its patron saint, Saint Nicholas. Each year thousands of children come and stay for treatment of disease. On December 6, 2004, a statue of St. Nicholas, by scultptor Michal Batkiewicz, was installed in front of the former rail station. The concept had been blessed by John Paul II. Since then the Centrum Swietego Mikolaja (St. Nicholas Center) provides charitable activities to help the poorest families, subsidize children’s stays in sanatoriums, and non-commercial activities to make children’s dreams come true. There is St. Nicholas Post Office that answers letters to him year around, St. Nicholas’ House with a bishop’s seat where the Saint will give gifts, and Saint Nicholas Museum with information about the Saint.
The Saint Nicholas House particularly supports family orphanages, single mothers, and children’s travel for treatment in hospitals and spa sanatoriums. It also finds sponsors for gifts from St. Nicholas and organizes festivals and events for children with disabilities and from orphanages, among other activities.
In another section
St. Nicholas Monuments in Poland
Statues and images in public places