Kolędowanie - the Slavic Christmas caroling in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Poland, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. The name koledari comes from the Church Slavonic word for Christmas i.e. Koleda. In Bulgaria this type of caroling is called “коледаруване” (koledaruvane), whereas in Macedonia it is called “коледарење” (koledarenje), but it is better known as “коледе” (kolede).
Carolers, or kolędnicy, visit homes of their neighbors during the Christmas season and in exchange for treats or small donations bestow good wishes upon the household for the New Year. Similar traditions can be traced to Pagan roots in the form of Godowe Święto, or the celebration of the winter season. The ancient god of the underworld Veles was known to regularly send spirits of the dead into the living world as his heralds. Festivals in his honor were held near the end of the year, in winter, when time was coming to the very end of world order, chaos was growing stronger, the borders between worlds of living and dead were fading, and ancestral spirits would return amongst the living. This ancient celebration of Wielka Noc (Great Night) still persists in folk customs of Kolęda, which can happen anywhere from Christmas up to end of February.
Kolędnicy often come dressed as a set of traditional characters:
The Turoń (bull) - often portrayed by a person covered in a sheepskin holding a wooden bull’s head on a stick and a bell around the neck. During the festivities the Turoń falls to the ground and is roused by the others through rubbing, coaxing, and pouring vodka into its mouth. The rousing of the beast symbolizes the Pagan rite of rebirth which takes place during spring. The Turoń also symbolizes fertility and prosperity.
The Niedźwiedź (bear) - he signifies everything that is bad in mankind and thus is led on a chain. The woman of the house must dance with the bear in order to secure prosperity for the upcoming year, and the man of the house must offer the bear a shot of vodka.
The Konik (horse) - this animal dances while the group chants “Hulaj, hulaj koniku/Po zielonym gaiku./Gdzie nasz konik pochodzi/Tam się żytko urodzi./Gdzie nasz konik nie chodzi/Tam się żytko nie rodzi.” The words relay the message that where a horse walks, is where wheat will grow, where the horse does not step, the wheat will not sprout. As horses were used in plowing the fields, the song was meant as a wish of health upon the master’s stable.
The Gwiazdor/Gwiazda (star) - this character was often dressed in a ramskin coat, a fur hat, and a mask to obscure the face. In lieu of the more modern Santa Claus (which visits Polish children on December 6th), Gwiazdor carried a star on a pole and a birch-rod. He brought gifts to children on Christmas Eve who had been good, and gave “lashes” with the birch-rod to those who misbehaved.
The Kostucha/Śmierć (death) - a female figure with a painted face and carrying a scythe, a personification of winter, the dying of crops, and ultimately of the changing of seasons.
Depending on the region, the cast of characters changes in accordance with local folklore. Other characters associated with Kolędowanie are the rooster, the stork, the goat, the Three Kings, the devil, the angel, the soldier, the Jew, the Gypsy, the policeman, the chimney-sweep, the shepherd, musicians, King Herod, and Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus who perform re-enactments of the birth of Christ in the manger.
With kolędowanie taking on more Christian tones and modern attitudes, today it is frequently done in a more toned-down fashion. Often the visit involves two or three characters following a priest and an altar boy who are welcomed with a small treat and a donation to the church. In return the priest prays and blesses the house for the upcoming year. (source)