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Turoń (horned creature), or actually the head of one, i.e. a head of an animal with ears and horns made of several hefty pieces of wood nailed together and mounted on a stick. Originating from Stary Sącz (1908), this Turoń head, just like other similar exhibits from the very beginning of the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków, has been shown at the permanent exhibition in the form it was used in, i.e. as a part of an animal monster, a disguise of a member of a group of carollers.

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Turoń (horned creature), or actually the head of one, i.e. a head of an animal with ears and horns made of several hefty pieces of wood nailed together and mounted on a stick. Originating from Stary Sącz (1908), this Turoń head, just like other similar exhibits from the very beginning of the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków, has been shown at the permanent exhibition in the form it was used in, i.e. as a part of an animal monster, a disguise of a member of a group of carollers. It was thus mounted on a frame imitating a standing, leaning human entirely wrapped with a blanket and resembling, in this way, an animal referred to as the Turoń.
As described in 1920 by Seweryn Udziela in Orli lot [Eagle’s Fligh]: in advance, boys prepare a wood-carved head for this celebration representing a creature resembling both an ox and a cow, with a movable lower jaw – snapped by means of a cord… The head is mounted on a rod held by a boy disguised as a Turoń. The boy puts on a sheepskin coat with the shaggy side up, or a cloth blanket, or possibly a sheet; he walks on four legs, shoes on his hands, or just walks with his back bent, using a walking stick.
As soon as the carollers have entered the room with a crib or a star and have shown puppets or performed a scene with Herod and the three kings and sang carols, a Turoń pops out, rears up, dances, jumps over chairs and tables, chases girls while pretending he wants to kiss them, sometimes with musical accompaniment... Usually frightened of the monster, children hide anywhere they can or clutch at mothers' aprons, and girls escape squealing and crying; if there is a dog in the house, it barks or howls, the older ones laugh; it is a scene full of screams, cries and laughter.
Along with goats, rams, horses, mares and bears, the Turoń is an animal monster that appears in Poland in carolling and Shrovetide groups. Carolling is, contrary to the popular notion, not only about singing songs about Christmas, it is also a ritual form of giving New Year's wishes, which has a long tradition, sometimes even preceding Christianity. Carollers include boys or young men wandering around during the holiday time, i.e. most often between the second day of Christmas holidays, the St. Stephen Day (26 December) and the Three Kings (6 January), sometimes Groundhog Day (2 February), from home to home singing carols, performing shows in various carolling costumes and using a variety of accessories (star, cribs), and giving others New Year's wishes in exchange for small gifts, i.e. the so-called ”carol” (hence the famous Polish ”Thank you for the carol, we wish you health and happiness!”).
New Year's wishes given to household members by the carollers were expressed not only with words, by signing the so-called wishing carols or carolling addressed individually to each household member, but also by the wishing sense of ritual elements, i.e. ritual acts of carollers and the symbolic significance of their costumes and accessories.
The oldest pre-Christian form of carolling is the walking from house to house with live animals symbolising health, fertility and male vitality such as a horse, bull, ram or goat, a custom sporadically cultivated in some villages of Eastern Poland to this day. The practice of carollers disguising themselves as animals has an equally long tradition, which is evidenced by Mediaeval church bans on such masquerades or references in various texts, e.g., in Mikołaj Rej: “Włóczy się, jako z wilkiem chodząc po kolędzie” [Wandering as if a wolf, singing carols].
An inextricable element of the carolling group, the Turoń embodies an animal marked by great power and vitality. Aurochs (Polish: tury), wild animals resembling large household cattle, once lived in European forests. As more and more land was used for farming, they became extinct. The longest surviving sanctuary of bisons is in Poland. In 1627, in Poland's Jaktorowska Forest, the last female aurochs died, leaving behind only a saying: strong as an aurochs. Even in the 16th century, a live aurochs was walked around villages. Marcin Bielski, a Polish historian and chronicler, called it a carolling aurochs, and others, while it was still young, “a little aurochs” (Polish: turoniek).

Turoń, The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków, 1928, source: National Digital Archive

A caroller disguised as a Turoń should have demonstrated a lot of agility. While staying hidden under a blanket and holding a heavy head on a stick, he had to jump and snap the jaw. As in the description of the Turoń's head provided earlier, usually the lower jaw was movable, made of a separate piece of wood suspended with pieces of leather. It was controlled by means of an internally threaded string, but in this case a different structure was used to free the caroller's hands. A rectangular leaden element was placed in a carved lower jaw, under a long tongue made of pieces of red cloth sewn together. With the weight of the leaden element, the lower jaw dropped automatically. A jumping Turoń must have looked like it was snapping its jaw; this impression being amplified by the sound of two homemade horse nails (hufnale) hitting against each other. The horse nails were nailed with the heads up into the edges of the red-painted cavity of the muzzle and made up the animal's blunt rectangular teeth.
At the Museum, the back of the Turoń's whole head was reinforced with a piece of plywood; originally opened, it allowed a Turoń caroller to collect gifts through an open muzzle, and some carollers would even drink a shot of vodka through it. In the carved cavity of the head, one could also place a lighting candle to make the nostrils glow; they were painted red around the edges. The eye holes fitted with red panes also glowed with the red light.
The very figure of the Turoń and its behaviour were supposed to make wishes come true, yet every part of its attire had some symbolic significance. A head covered with animal skins, in this case boar skin with black bristles, was meant to symbolise affluence and fertility. All prickly elements, in this case natural cattle horns with additional protruding pieces of random wires were to boost fertility. The Turoń provoked mainly marriageable women, mostly with its horns; one would also feel pricking upon any contact with the muzzle as the nostril edges were covered with pricks protruding outwards.
The very figure of the Turoń and its behaviour were supposed to make wishes come true, yet every part of its attire had some symbolic significance. A head covered with animal skins, in this case boar skin with black bristles, was meant to symbolise affluence and fertility. All prickly elements, in this case natural cattle horns with additional protruding pieces of random wires were to boost fertility. The Turoń provoked mainly marriageable women, mostly with its horns; one would also feel pricking upon any contact with the muzzle as the nostril edges were covered with pricks protruding outwards.
Irrespective of the group of carollers or the Shrovetide group they were a part of, all of those Turońs, goats, rams and horses never stepped beyond their beastly mute roles and were usually led by another person: a Jew, a Dziad [Old Man] or a Gypsy. These monsters participated in staged humorous scenes: the Jew or the Dziad tried to sell the beast by touting its advantages, the most important scene being the fall of the animal pretending to be dead. After a series of attempts, participants succeeded in bringing a Turoń back to life – it jumped again, provoked with greater zeal. This archaic scene symbolised the winter lifelessness of nature and its return to life with even greater vitality. This rite was meant to ensure a good harvest, health and fertility in the coming growing season in both humans and animals. That is why the ”Zagórzanie” band of Kasina Wielka sang in 1993:

Gdzie do domu turoń wchodzi,                               Where the Turoń enters a house,

Tam się piknie zboze rodzi.                                       There are great crops yielded.

Przemienio się złe na dobre                                      Evil turns to good

I nastajo lata scodre,                                                   And prosperous years come.

Hej nom, koląda!                                                         Hey, let us sing carols!

The whole collection of the Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków (about 850 exhibits) includes 23 exhibits being heads of Turońs, goats and rams. Originating from almost across Poland, these exhibits have been collected since the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century. This head of a Turoń from 1908 from Stary Sącz is exceptionally bulky, but it is not the only one with a muzzle covered with hedgehog skin. This element can also be observed in another Turoń in the museum's collection whose eyes are made of buttons from an Austrian military uniform. The Turoń originates from Sułoszowa near Kraków and dates back to the early 20th century. The museum's equally interesting exhibits include the oldest accessories of this kind, e.g., a head with natural twisted ram horns from Przecław near Mielec dating back to 1890, a gift from Seweryn Udziela, and a head from Sieniawa (the Nowy Targ District) with wooden horns nailed to it. This head was given to the Museum by Kazimierz Witkiewicz in 1912. It is also worth mentioning a head with the teeth made of white china buttons and a bell under its neck, originating from Kraków-Bieżanów and dating back to the early 20th century.

Elaborated by Małgorzata Oleszkiewicz (The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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On carolling and the ritual of exchanging New Year's greetings

Carolling is more than just, as is commonly believed today, singing songs about Christmas. It is a ceremonial exchange of New Year’s greetings having a ancient, often pre-Christian tradition. Carollers are boys or young men who wander around during the Christmas season, which is usually from the second day of Christmas, St. Stephen’s Day (26th of December) to the Epiphany (6th of January), and sometimes even to Candlemas (2nd of February). They wander from one house to another, sing carols and enact scenes using a variety of costumes and carollers’ decorations (a star, a nativity scene), as well as exchanging New Year’s greetings.

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Carolling is more than just, as is commonly believed today, singing songs about Christmas. It is a ceremonial exchange of New Year’s greetings having a ancient, often pre-Christian tradition. Carollers are boys or young men who wander around during the Christmas season, which is usually from the second day of Christmas, St. Stephen’s Day (26th of December) to the Epiphany (6th of January), and sometimes even to Candlemas (2nd of February). They wander from one house to another, sing carols and enact scenes using a variety of costumes and carollers’ decorations (a star, a nativity scene), as well as exchanging New Year’s greetings. In return, they receive small gifts, called kolęda – carol in Polish (hence the famous Za kolędę dziękujemy, zdrowia, szczęścia winszujemy! [We thank you for your carol and wish you health and good luck!].
New Year’s greetings exchanged by carollers with household members in visited houses were expressed not only in words, through the singing of carols and wishes addressed to each of the residents. They were also expressed through rituals – by the ritual behaviours of the carollers and the symbolic significance of their costumes and props.
The oldest, pre-Christian form of carolling was walking from one house to another with a living animal such as a horse, bull, ram or goat, which were symbols of health, fertility, and male vitality; this form is occasionally cultivated in some villages of Eastern Poland to this day. An equally long tradition has as a practice carollers dressing up as animals, which is evidenced in bans on such masquerades issued by the medieval Church or in references in various materials like in the text by Mikołaj Rej: He wanders, as with a wolf going carolling.

Elaborated by Małgorzata Oleszkiewicz (The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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“Turoń” (the type of horned creature) from Stary Sącz

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