GWIŻDŻE, FEFERNUSKI AND MATECZKI – CHRISTMAS ON POMORZE
Many hours' walks in shopping centres, great Christmas lights or Christmas parties in workplaces. With this, many of us associate Christmas. However, we often forget that December holidays are a centuries old tradition, shaped by our ancestors who celebrated them a lot more modestly but it had a lot of passion and joy in turn. That's how it is on Pomorze, where a little forgotten traditions are still cherished by some of the inhabitants of Kashubia, Żuławy or Kociewie.
Gammer with gaffer, the Death armed with scythe, the Devil, the Gypsy, the Stork and the Sweep. This is not an alternative to “the Fellowship of the Ring”, but a Kashubian train of those, who we happen to call carollers. On the Christmas Eve, they go around the houses as a Gwiazdka [Star], and later – between Christmas and Epiphany (a time called Gòdë in Kashubia) – they change their name to Gwiżdże. The aim remains the same: scare a little, amuse a little and definitely not to leave any house with empty hands. Years ago, a bite of any food and sip of any drink would suffice; today, the biggest joy are candy and some money “for the way.”
What would Christmas be if it wasn't for the presents? But known to all Santa Claus would not arise so much enthusiasm as Gwiazdor, because it is him who has been bringing presents for the little ones since ages. The only red thing he has is his nose – because of the cold weather – as his outfit consists of typically country elements like rubbers, thick coat or a hat called “myca”. On Żuławy in turn, the role of the giver was formerly ascribed to Siwy Koń [Gray Horse]. But this persona is slightly forgotten, surely because kids quickly stopped believing that an old animal from the farm digs out the presents from the ground.
A slightly different role on Żuławy had Advent “mateczki” [“mothers”]. They are elderly ladies who, before Christmas, collected money for poor people so they could also have proper Christmas. Their visit in the house didn't only mean giving a donation. Children also had to show their knowledge of the most important prayers. The prize for their proper recitation was always a promise of a present. Obviously, “mateczki” were in touch with Siwy Koń!
An essence of Christmas tradition is however a Christmas Eve supper. Today mandatory consisting of twelve dishes, someday – because of poverty – it was limited to seven or nine dishes. On Kociewie, a long time ago, the supper was started not by sharing a wafer but... a flatbread, more reminiscent of a small pancake rather than today's beautifully patterned white, delicate, fine cake. On Kashubia, the Christmas family meal was made from the best things that harvest, crops and catch had brought: cabbage with mushrooms (preferably those from forests in the area of Dziemiany!), brzadowa soup (like a borscht, but rather than beets, it was cooked on dried fruits) and fish – in the south part of Kashubia mainly herrings and vendaces, and in the north part eels. Meanwhile, Żuławy are mainly known for a Christmas dessert, that is fefernuski, also called pepper nuts. They are little balls from gingerbread, happily ate also on Kociewie.
And although many of the described traditions live only thanks to museums, dynamically functioning country housewives' associations and active regionalists, part of them – in more or less modified form – “enters” big cities. Let's not be surprised then, when one day, while walking in the wintery Gdańsk, we will meet Gwiazdor on a Siwy Koń, who wants to share a flatbread because of Christmas time.Text by Maciej Bąk