A poem by Clement Clark Moore and big companies created that myth later on. But this is another story.
Originally, Nikolaus was a Bishop in what is now known as Turkey. He was born into a wealthy family, but he chose to be a monk, and later a priest. When his parents died, Nikolaus gave his inheritance away to the needy.
During the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian he was arrested for his crime of being a Christian. (Ironically, at the time, the jails were so full of Priests and Bishops, there was no room for robbers and murderers.)
Nikolaus was known for his kindness, especially to children.
In Germany, Sankt Nikolaus and his companion visit homes on the evening of the 5th, and ask whether Children were behaving. Sankt Nikolaus would be dressed in white robes and carrying a book, to double check behaviour, and his Bishop’s Staff.
Kids would be asked about for their behaviour and invited to recite poems or sing a song. The child would get a gift for doing well.
His companion Knecht Ruprecht; there are different names in different regions of Germany; is a more sinister figure, who carried a switch. Children who were bad could be given a switch.
(One way of trying to make children behave in the weeks leading up to Christmas – just mention Knecht Ruprecht !)
In my childhood on “Nikolaus Abend”, the evening of the 5th, kids polished their shoes and placed them in front of the doors, on the windowsills, for Sankt Nikolaus to leave a gift there.
Up until Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century, Sankt Nikolaus was the day for gift giving. (Martin Luther wanted to change the focus away from the Saints, and instead put it on Christ.)
So the jolly man travelling during the night bearing gifts, the stockings placed on the fireplace mantle – these and other customs have mingled now.
Alas : in Germany the “Christkind”, the Christ Child, brings the gifts … working with the angels and a better time management they organize leaving gifts with the parents in the days leading up to Christmas. Christmas Eve that is : presents are unpacked underneath the tree in the evening of the 24th.
Leaving the 25th and 26th for visiting family – one set of In-Laws on one day. The second set the next … and Peace to all !!
Have a merry Sankt Nikolaus Day 😊