Polish legend has it that on the night of Christmas Eve, animals gain the ability to speak in human voices, leading people to seek the miracle of reconciliation.
To honor the mysticism of legend and his Polish-Catholic heritage, St. Paul breadmaker Danny (Klecko) McGleno has started a tradition that he says delights ethnic Eastern Europeans as well as urban hipsters.
As darkness falls on Dec. 23, he sets up a holy display of candles, ribbons and bread around a tree. On the ground, he places a representation of the Holy Trinity, three 18-inch busts that he carves from bread. On the branches, he dangles two dozen Polish sourdough baguettes.
After 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve, everything on the trees is "up for grabs," he says, as people pluck bread from the branches and take it home to set outside for the animals.
"It's mostly spread by word of mouth, but each year I have a few more people who come out to see it," said McGleno, who is better known by his nickname, Klecko. "I get Poles and Czechs. Some of the Russians get really excited about it."
This year Klecko is setting up outside the Bean Factory, a coffee shop at 1518 Randolph Av. in St. Paul. He said it is his fifth official year, though he has done it for years out in the woods.
"According to tradition, this usually happens in the town square or some gathering place," Klecko said. "In my neighborhood, all the cool people gather at the Bean Factory."
For modern-day Poles, the night of Christmas Eve, or Wigilia, remains a night of family gathering, forgiveness and new beginnings.
For Klecko, who has baked bread for presidents and royalty as well as provided the bratwurst buns at Minnesota Wild hockey games, the magic is just part of the joy he gets out of making the display.
"It's a way for me to pay respect to the customs of my masters," he said.