Today is sort of a special day for the kids in Germany. It’s the 6th of December, or Nikolaustag.
Christmastradition here differs somewhat from that in the US or elsewhere.
Santa Claus, the guy from the Coca Cola trucks IS known exactly like that, thanks to the media and commercialising the crap out of everything popular, but over here, Santa Claus is actually Saint Nick. Or der Heilige Nikolaus.
A Catholic saint born in today’s Turkey around 280 AD he was imprisoned and tortured in 310 and later turned bishop. He gave the riches he had inherited to the poor, authorities didn’t like that a whole lot apparently.
In the night leading to the 6th of December Nikolaus visits children in Germany and puts little presents into their boots, usually some chocolate (often in the form of a little Nikolaus, so called Schokonikoläuse), nuts, clementines, gingerbread, cookies and maybe something else.
I guess that’s where the US custom of stuffing stockings with … stuff originated.
In many regions all over Europe (it’s not only a German thing) Nikolaus has a companion. Just like Doctor Who. Except it’s usually something scary to scare the naughty kids, rattle chains, beat them up with his birch or give them coal or rocks instead of presents.
Nikolaus is usually portrayed as a catholic bishop with a staff and robes plus matching headgear. His companion of many names, in my region known as Knecht Ruprecht (Knecht being word for a vassal, servant or farmhand) usually is a darkish figure in very plain jute clothes.
In many families and of course kindergardens and elementary schools a friendly neighbour, uncle or friend will dress up as Nikolaus, don a white beard and scare the crap out of the little beasties, telling them things from his golden books which he’s not supposed to know. Naughty or nice, eh? I’ve done that once, it was kinda fun. No, I don’t have pictures.
Sometimes this ends in hilarity, when a kid realizes: “Look, Nikolaus is wearing sneakers!” or “It’s not Nikolaus, it’s uncle Jim!”
Evolution of the custom created the figure called the Weihnachtsmann (Christmas-Man) which is pretty close to the US Santa Claus and even sometimes brings presents on Christmas Eve nowadays, which I personally think is a little sad, but that’s globalization for you.
And this is what he traditionally looks like in Germany!