St. Nikolaus (Nicholas) was a bishop in Myra, which today is Turkey, who died on the 6th of December 345. Although the date of his death is known, not many actual facts about his life have survived the centuries. Legends, however, abound. He was a benefactor and miracle worker and became the Patron Saint of sailors, scholars, merchants and children.
One legend reports that he resurrected three cruelly murdered young men and brought the murderer to justice. Another tells how he secretly gave gold coins to a poor man so he could give a dowry to his three daughters, who otherwise would have been forced to earn their keep as prostitutes.
The 6th of December is an exciting day for German children, as Sankt Nikolaus passes by in the night and drops gifts for the good children. He has a big book in which the names of all the children are noted, together with their good and bad deeds during the year.
All children (and adults as well for that matter) put their polished shoes outside their door in that night and find sweet treats and small gifts in the morning if they have been good. If they have been bad, they might find a piece of coal or even a "Rute", a hazelnut switch, instead.