Today we celebrate "Nikolaustag", St. Nicholas Day, here in Germany and other European countries.
St. Nicholas lived in the 4th century and was a Greek bishop in Myra (part of modern-day Turkey). His name is connected with many miracles like bringing three murdered scholars back from death through praying.
Another one of the stories connected with him is the story of the poor father of three daughters. The father couldn't afford to pay dowry for his daughters and thought he would be forced to send them on the streets as prostitutes. St. Nicholas heard about that and secretly threw gold through the window to prevent this.
It's said that the custom of putting sweets or small gifts into children's shoes in the night from the 5th to the 6th of December comes from this legend.
When the retailers discovered the gift-giving saint for themselves, he finally turned into the fat, friendly man with the white beard, dressed in red, who is so familiar to us now.
I have my personal St. Nicholas anecdote. There used to be a service hiring students (probably it still exists) for visiting families on the 6th, all dressed up and ready to give the kids the third degree about if they had been good or bad. A friend of ours did that and as it's hard to drive in that costume, the tall guy played the chauffeur and as our relationship was still pretty new (yes, a long time ago), I wanted to come along. Gee, it was cold in that car!
Each time our friend came back from a family, he'd tell us how it had been - the embarrassing story when he had to tell the uncle not to drink so much, the short stories and the story about the lovely Italian family who kept him in there for quite a while, offering him dinner and ... the liquor that they had made themselves after a family recipe. Another little glass? After all it was so cold outside. They were so friendly that he didn't know how to refuse without them being disappointed. St. Nicholas came out of that house slightly tipsy. After the ride to the next house he didn't feel too well anymore. Instead of going in he straight went to the next trash can ...
I doubt he'll ever read this, but if he does, I'm not laughing at you, dear friend. Well, maybe a little, but it's also a very fond memory.