Tomorrow is the feast of St. Nicholas–the man who gave rise to the legend of Santa Claus.
Wikipedia provides some background:
Saint Nicholas of Myra (traditionally 15 March 270 – 6 December 343), also known as Nicholas of Bari, was an early Christianbishopof the ancient Greek city of Myra in Asia Minor (modern-day Demre, Turkey) during the time of the Roman Empire. He is revered by many Christians as a saint. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, and students in various cities and countries around Europe. His reputation evolved among the faithful, as was common for early Christian saints, and his legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus (“Saint Nick”) through Sinterklaas.
The image at the top of this post shows Nicholas surreptitiously tossing a bag of gold coins through the window of a poor widower, to provide dowries for his three daughters. (He doesn’t look much like the Santa Claus we know!)
St. Nicholas also is said to have placed coins in the shoes of sleeping children. And so, even today, children put their shoes out in a prominent location on the Eve of St. Nicholas Day, hoping that he will leave a coin or a treat for them.
There’s also a sinister side to traditions surrounding St. Nicholas:
In Germanic countries, St. Nicholas is accompanied by Krampus, an evil spirit or little devil, usually dressed in fur or black with a long tail, and carries a rattling chain, birch branches and a big black bag. … St. Nicholas Eve is known in some rural areas of Austria as “Krampus Day.” Children and adults go to the village square to throw snowballs and try to chase off Krampus. Other Krampuses lie in wait, rattling their chains and threatening to carry off naughty children in their black bags, or to punish them with their birch branches. All this is done in fun; Krampus’ main purpose is remind the children to be good.
Now that’s creepy!
Watch out for the Krampuses (Krampi?) tonight.
Put out your shoes. Maybe St. Nick will leave you a gift. If not, at least your shoes will be aired out.