A good friend, Jerry Pacholski, told me of the Christmases of his childhood in Chicago. When he asked me to carve a Star Man, I asked him to write about these traditions. He provided the following.
For the people of Poland, the Feast of Christmas is not only an important religious event but is also a celebration of "family" in its deepest sense.
The day of Christmas Eve is traditionally a fast day. Children watch for the sight of the first star ("Gwiazda") which signals that the celebratory meatless meal can begin. Before the meal the entire family shares the "Oplatki". The head of the household divides a large wafer into equal pieces and each family member then breaks a piece from each other persons wafer. This symbolizes that whatever the family has, they will gladly share with each other. The occasion is one where all family members make peace and express their feelings for each other. After dinner the children wait for "Gwiazdor"-the Star Man, the Polish version of Santa Claus. Typically he might be a neighbor or relative dessed in the garb of a shepherd with stars on the robe. He carries a lantern shaped like a star.
Gwiazdor (pronounced "gVee-ashdoor") will question each child about their conduct that year and test their knowledge of their religion. They may be asked to sing a "Kolendy" or traditional Christmas carol. Children whose conduct hasn't met expectations or who fail to answer their catechism questions get a spanking but not a serious one. Starman then distributes simple gifts of fruit, nuts, candy and small toys. After being treated to refreshments, he warns the kids to be good and mind their parents. He will then be sure to kiss all the ladies, share greetings of the season with the men (and maybe a drink) then move on to the next house.
The rest of the evening is spent in celebration ending with midnight mass. In the morning the family will open gifts then visit with friends and relatives to wish them "Wesolych Swiat".
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