every 12 months, something unusual happens on the eve of December 5: kids across Germany every depart a unmarried boot outdoor their doorsteps, that is then magically crammed overnight with chocolate and candies.

other cultures in Europe and past have additionally taken to celebrating similar traditions both on the same date or stretched out at some stage in the holiday season. The lifestyle of striking stockings up on Christmas Eve is one of the parallels that would come to mind.

December 6 is the day that celebrates St. Nicholas — Santa Claus's predecessor, if you like.

lengthy, flowing beards and red overcoats are but commonalities they percentage. However unlike the yank invention of Santa Claus, that could at the least partly be traced back to smart advertising by means of Coca-Cola from the early Nineteen Thirties, St. Nicholas contains the load of just about millennia on his shoulders — in addition to diverse items and choose-me-ups.

The 'person of religion' behind Santa

Carol Myers from the St. Nicholas center, a US-based website that makes a speciality of presenting in-intensity information at the popular saint's lifestyles and instances, says that she has usually been a St. Nicholas fanatic. Her business enterprise hosts a traveling exhibit primarily based on the saint's biography, at the same time as additionally telling the lore that follows him in the course of the sector.

"when my children were small I wanted them to realize there has been someone of religion in the back of Santa Claus. So, St. Nicholas Day become the right time to speak about St. Nicholas. Due to the fact we live in a Dutch-history metropolis in Michigan it changed into easy to feature Dutch touches to our observance. The youngsters would placed out their wooden footwear out and receive small toys and Dutch chocolate gold coins and we'd communicate a chunk about St. Nicholas," Myers tells DW.

The saint who transcends barriers

Myers's ardour for Nicholas isn't an remoted phenomenon. Humans from everywhere in the international have a good time the person whose photograph has stimulated the icon of a benevolent man bearing presents at some point of — at least for the Northern hemisphere — a number of the coldest and darkest instances of the 12 months.

Carol Myers says that, beyond bringing warm temperature to children's hearts, St. Nicholas bridges the divide among spiritual and secular, "as he's loved through youngsters everywhere, whether called St. Nicholas or Santa Claus."

"Many human beings, whether or not spiritual or now not, are seeking out extra meaning in their vacation traditions and need to examine greater approximately St. Nicholas, who enables recognition more on giving than getting, extra on compassion than intake," she points out.

"His attraction additionally spans the Christian spectrum. He is one of the maximum large saints within the Orthodox and eastern ceremony traditions, beloved through Roman Catholics and Anglicans, and many Protestants, as nicely."

Nicholas stays as one of the few saints whose frequent reputation survived the appearance of the Protestant age. Legend has it that Martin Luther himself tried to fight the saint's reputation through associating the practice of stocking-stuffing with Christmas in preference to St. Nicholas Day, as a result founding the lifestyle of gift-giving on December 24 or 25.

A saint for non-believers

however Luther's tries fell quick of achieving their complete intentions, with extra churches named after St. Nicholas than every other saint — bar Mary. This has contributed to in addition crafting the fantasy of a person who rises above non secular infighting and division. Professor Adam English, chair of the department of religion and Philosophy at Campbell college in North Carolina, believes that St. Nicholas transcends spiritual appeal altogether.

"unlike such a lot of Christian saints who are respected and remembered by way of the pious few, Nicholas is celebrated with the aid of religious and non-religious alike. His reach goes past the walls of the church and past the pages of church records to the hearts of youngsters and the imaginations of mother and father who name their daughters Collette and their sons Nick," English tells DW.

English wrote a e-book telling the ancient story of St. Nicholas, entitled "The Saint Who might Be Santa Claus," published by means of Baylor university Press. In it, he explores what he calls "the real and compelling tale of Saint Nicholas."

"unique local customs cheer the arrival of Nicholas from Argentina to Iceland, from Canada to Palestine. He is the client saint of entire countries, together with Russia and Greece, no longer to mention towns, professions, and some other variety of factors. And of direction, he's the consumer saint of children."

the person in the back of the legend

The historical figure at the back of the archetype embodied with the aid of St. Nicholas is Nicholas of Myra, whose existence spanned from the overdue 1/3 to the mid fourth centuries. He lived in gift-day southern Turkey, which was then part of the Roman Empire earlier than the dawn of the Byzantine age, and brought humans collectively at a time whilst social divisions and civil unrest were riding them further and further aside.

The recognition of being a person of desirable deeds preceded him in the course of the Christian international; a number of the acts attributed to St. Nicholas encompass him providing dowries for 3 young women to save them from falling into prostitution, saving harmless humans from execution, and feeding the bad at some stage in famines.

"He strongly lived out Jesus' command to 'supply all you need to the terrible' and he did so, helping folks that have been most inclined: women and the terrible. He lived the command to 'love your neighbor as yourself' via example," Carol Myers explains.

"uncommon for his time, Nicholas have become a saint because of the nice of his existence, now not the character of his loss of life, as he changed into no longer martyred, as were most saints of that era," she adds.

Myers provides that in his lifetime Nicholas became a religious bishop keeping conventional ideals. He become part of the collective of bishop attending the primary Council of Nicaea, in which an estimated 300 bishops hooked up some critical foundations of early Christian doctrine, including the Nicene Creed — the career of faith nevertheless recited at mass these days.

Nicholas is coming to metropolis

As a good deal as Nicholas got here to embody fairytale stories that still brighten youngsters's lives, there has been a actual character taking a ways-attaining moves in his lifetime during the early days of Christendom which have all come to be part of religious and non-religious holiday rituals these days.

"There's a actual history and a actual individual at the bottom of all of the excursion cheer," says English, who is a self-professed fan of all vacation traditions which are based totally by way of-and-huge on both the data and the myths embodied by means of St. Nicholas.

"a few may say that we've got lost the saintly seriousness of the season, that we've got made it too lighthearted and silly and forgotten the actual that means of things," feedback English. "but it is right for us to chuckle, and to snigger at ourselves, be a touch stupid and ridiculous, and even a bit childish. We've a difficult time figuring out something as simple as that. That's why we need a version: Saint Nicholas offers us with a guide, a version, and an instance of a person who can chuckle, is pleased, and might have a laugh with the children."