Sankt Nikolaus visits children in the Eifel

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany-- Sankt Nikolaus, the German version of Santa Claus, visits children Dec. 5, 2012, the night before Sankt Nikolaus Day Dec. 6, 2012. He presents gifts and discusses the good and bad things the children did throughout the year. Additionally, he also asks the children to recite a poem or sing a Christmas song. Sometimes, Hans Muff, dressed in black and rattling a chain, accompanies Sankt Nikolaus. (U.S. Air Force photo by Iris Reiff)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany-- Sankt Nikolaus, the German version of Santa Claus, visits children Dec. 5, 2012, the night before Sankt Nikolaus Day Dec. 6, 2012. He presents gifts and discusses the good and bad things the children did throughout the year. Additionally, he also asks the children to recite a poem or sing a Christmas song. Sometimes, Hans Muff, dressed in black and rattling a chain, accompanies Sankt Nikolaus. (U.S. Air Force photo by Iris Reiff)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Wednesday, Dec. 6, is Sankt Nikolaus Day, a part of the German Christmas tradition, when children receive small gifts in their shoes which they leave outside the evening prior.

This day is set aside to commemorate Bishop Nicholas of Myra, who lived in the 4th Century. According to legend, this clergyman gave gifts to the three daughters of an impoverished nobleman. Another version of the legend maintains the bishop saved three scholastics from the clutches of a cannibal.

During the Middle Ages this day commemorating Nikolaus was an occasion for charitable giving, for rewarding students and giving children the opportunity to go out and collect gifts.

In recent times, it's traditional that Sankt Nikolaus, the German version of Santa Claus, visits children Dec. 5, the night before Sankt Nikolaus Day or on Dec. 6. He presents gifts and discusses the good and bad things the children did throughout the year. He also asks them to recite a poem or sing a Christmas song. The gifts are provided beforehand by the parents in the doorway, along with a list, telling Sankt Nikolaus about things the parents want him to mention.

Sometimes, Hans Muff, dressed in black and rattling a chain, accompanies Sankt Nikolaus. He usually carries a bag with an artificial limb sticking out to convince children he has already taken a bad child with him. If the children are afraid of the frightening character Hans Muff, he may of course always wait outside. Often, Hans Muff helps Sankt Nikolaus present goodies to the children. If Sankt Nikolaus doesn't charge a fee for his visit, it's customary to tip him. In some towns, Sankt Nikolaus either arrives by sled if it snows or by coach if it doesn't.

Children who aren't visited will set their shoes on their doorstep or windowsill, hoping Sankt Nikolaus will leave something for them for the next morning. Other children find a Nikolaus plate with cookies, fruits and candies on the table the next day.

But without a doubt, a visit by Sankt Nikolaus is certainly a lasting memory.