I just blogged about Krampus traditions in the Alps, devilish figures constrained to serve St. Nicholas and goodness - what about St. Nicholas himself?
Germans and parts of Central and Eastern Europe have Advent traditions for St. Nicholas Day, Nikolaustag, the 6th of December. Since one of the deeds the Christian saint Saint Nicholas of Myra is best known for was slipping gold into the house of three maidens needing dowries to marry, it was a natural enough development for St. Nicholas’ Day to become the day you would give gifts, and so it is in Germany.
On the eve of Nikolaustag (“nee-ko-LAOS-taak”), children set out shoes or plates or hang stockings to get tasty Christmas treats- chocolate, nuts, mandarin oranges, Lebkuchen overnight. On the 6th, a Nicholaus in full bishoply costume is apt to come by, read the ‘naughty or nice’ list from his goldenen Buch, his golden book, and praise the good children, and dispense birch whips for the bad’uns. His servant Knecht Ruprecht may hand out the birch, though those tend not to actually ever get given. Martin Luther, who grew up with the tradition of gifts on Nikolaustag, shifted gift-giving to Christmas, since saints were no longer a focus of veneration. Presents are said to come from Nicholas still, or from the Christkind (Christ as angelic child), or in some regions, Knecht Ruprecht completely replaces Nicholas. Gifts are generally opened on Christmas Eve - maybe at midnight, or sometime that evening. In Luxembourg, St. Nicholas’ Day is still the primary gift-giving day, not Christmas. And with that - a blessed and charitable-hearted St. Nicholas Day to you all!