Santa Claus is real.
No really, he is.
He was born on December 6, and he was the Byzantine Bishop of Myra in the 3rd and 4th century. According to legend, he performed many a wonder, some of them having to do with kids. It is said that he brought a child to a thus far childless couple, brought the murdered son of another couple back to life, and saved yet another child from drowning.
So it’s not surprising that, when he was canonized, he became the patron saint of children. His birthday, like those of many other saints, became a religious holiday, and was often celebrated with a gift exchange.
During the reformation movement in the 16th century, which, among other things, rejected the adoration of regular folks as saints, the church did away with the holiday, and supported moving the big gift exchange to a later date — Christmas.
But traditions are hard to erase.
In some countries, such as the US, Nikolaus became Santa Claus, who delivers the presents on Christmas Eve to celebrate Christ’s birthday. And in Germany, like in many other European countries, children put their Stiefel (boots) out on the eve of December 6 in the hopes of finding them filled with goodies the next morning. Nikolaus travels from house to house, carrying the book of ‘sins’, which tells him which child’s Stiefel boots should be filled with presents, and which child’s Stiefel (boots) should instead be filled with twigs bound like a Rute (whip) to be used to punish unruly kids.
Today, of course, all Stiefel (boots) are filled with goodies – nuts, oranges, chocolates shaped like the holy bishop like the modern Santa Claus, and sometime even small toys – often hung on a Rute.
It’s not that Germans don’t celebrate Christmas from December 24 through December 26; they do. But Nikolaus – Santa Claus – is done with his deliveries by then. It’s the Christkind (Christ child) who delivers the presents then. Check back in later in the month to learn German Christmas traditions.