Nicholas and Santa Claus – patron saint and bringer of gifts

December 6th is the “Nikolaustag” in Germany. It is customary to put the shoes in front of the door to wait for Santa Claus to come by and put little presents in the shoes. These are mostly things like fruit, nuts, chocolate, sweets, but sometimes also other things.

At least that’s how it was when I was a kid.

That’s changed a bit these days. In contrast to the past, St. Nicholas now leaves everything that fits into a shoe, from the useful to the absurd. It’s hard to believe it, but there are head massage sticks, singing Christmas balls, inflatable balloon animals, nail dryer monkeys, wine bottle thermometers, gloves for touchpad operation, massage stones and handbag holders, all delivered by Santa Claus per house – directly into the boots.

And because times have changed so drastically, some of the younger Santa Claus fans even want a smartphone and for that they put their boots in front of the door.

This tradition began with a legend:

In the 4th century, the bishop Nikolaus lived in the city of Myra (in today’s Turkey). There was a poor God-fearing man who couldn’t buy his daughters any dowry. The bishop Nicholas heard this, and he decided to help the poor man. That night he threw several lumps of gold through the fireplace of the family and the pieces of gold fell directly into the socks, which were hung up to dry by the chimney. This famous story is the origin of the tradition of putting socks or shoes outside the door and waiting for St. Nicholas to fill them with gifts. Because Saint Nicholas is also the patron saint of children, he rewards diligent and well-behaved children and sometimes comes into the house, reading from a book to the children about good and bad deeds they have done throughout the year. Then he praises or blames them, but in the end, there is almost always a gift.

This tradition may sound strange to our overseas readers, as it is so different from the Christmas-gift-bringers outside of Germany. Yes, Nicholas is more of a patron saint, a saint of the Catholic Church who is especially venerated by children and seafarers. Also, for the pour single young ladies he has a special meaning, because they hope for better finances from their praying-intercessions to him.

The gifts on the night of Christmas are usually the responsibility of the Christ Child, a legendary figure who is replaced by Santa Claus in the Anglo-Saxon part of the world. Christ Child and Santa Claus have the same meaning and the same tasks. These figures of the Gift Bringer exist in Latin America as “Niño Jesus,” who on the morning after Christmas Eve lays presents for the children under the Christmas tree. They are all fantasy figures who act as gift bringers.

But a Santa Claus, such there is only one… in some European countries. Even there, they are not to be seen everywhere.

Photo: ManfredK – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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