6 December is Saint Nicholas Day, better known as Nikolaus in Germany. While the day may not receive the full religious celebration it does in Southern Germany and other traditionally Catholic regions, children across Europe look forward to this day each year.
St. Nicholas was once known as Nicholas of Myra, a 4th century Greek bishop who was said to have a penchant for gift giving — specifically for leaving coins in people’s shoes. Celebrations of his generosity evolved over the centuries, giving rise not only to Nikolaus in Germany but also to Santa Claus in North America, Father Christmas in the UK, Sinterklaas in the Netherlands and many, many other variations throughout Christian regions. Common among them is the theme of giving gifts to children, particularly on 6 December and/or Christmas.
In Hamburg and throughout Germany, children leave their shoes near the fireplace or front door on the night of 5 December. The next morning, they should find that their footwear has been filled overnight with small presents and treats by Nikolaus. So, parents new to Hamburg with kindergarten- or school-aged children may want to pay special attention to the calendar and ensure a visit from Saint Nicholas. The ritual significantly shortens the wait for Christmas by treating children to tangerines, candy and small gifts.