Many children in Germany put a boot called Nikolaus-Stiefel outside the front door (or under the bed, or beside a radiator, or on a windowsill) on the night of 5 December. They often add also letters to the Saint and carrots or sugar for his horse or donkey. St Nicholas fills the boot with gifts and sweets, according to the behaviour of children, which he reads in his book. If they were mischievous they get a tree branch, potatoes or coal in their boots.
In some parts of the country there used to be a Christmas Man who carried a Christmas tree and a sack of toys. He was called Aschenclos, or Nicholas with Ashes (ashes were meant for naughty children). In the 1890s he became Pelze-Nicol, or Fur Clad Nicholas, and appeared in a fur-trimmed suit, no longer carrying ashes and looking much like Santa Claus. Pelze-Nicol travelled with Black Peter.
There St. Nicholas is called Niklo. He wears a gold robe trimmed with fur, smokes a pipe and is sometimes pictured carrying a backpack, hiking staff and mountain climbing tools.
Niklo may come by himself or with angel helpers and Krampus (a demon-like creature, deriving from the Alpine mythology). Krampus was usually portrayed by a child from poor family, who wore a mask and dragged chains behind him. Sometimes all the children who portrayed the Krampus arranged so-called “Krampus runs”, filling the streets of the village o town during the festival.
Krampus, postcard of 1900.
Taken from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Krampus-Postkarte_um_1900.jpg
The families get ready for the Saint's arrival, by telling the children stories about him, in particular, the one about the three butchered children. The tradition to leave the shoes for the night by the fireplace is dating back to the times when children wore wooden peasant shoes and put them near the fireplace for the night, to dry. St Nicholas arrives accompanied by a little donkey with a basket filled with gifts and sweets.
In France Père Noël, similar to Santa Claus, is used to deliver gifts to children on Christmas Eve, travelling with his companion, Père Fouettard (the Whipping Father). In some areas, Père Noël brings gifts twice: on St. Nicholas’ Eve and on Christmas.
England has more than 500 churches named for St. Nicholas. His feast day is associated with children and gifts, it is the time for collecting food, gifts, and money for the less financially privileged.
On Christmas follows the tradition of Father Christmas, who looks a lot like Santa with his long white beard and a sack full of presents.
In some regions of the country there is a medieval tradition still followed, which celebrates St Nicholas as the patron of high-school students during a range of festivities from November 29 till December 7, called “Nicolinas”.
St Nicholas is the patron saint of Greece, where his primary role is the protector of sailors and seamen. At Christmas the Greek hold little processions of small fishing boats, decorated with blue and white lights, in honour of the Saint. Greek ships always carry an icon of St. Nicholas, as the master of wind and tempest.
There is a tradition of festivities called “Nikolobarbara” (from 4 to 9 December), which includes feast days of St Barbara, St Savvas, St Nicholas and St Anne. These days are considered herald the onset of truly wintry cold weather in the country, and therefore people prepare their houses for winter a week ahead.
St Nicholas of Myra. Greek icon.
Taken from http://ru-icons.ru/part15/part151/1_1_120-5.htm
For Bulgarians St Nicholas is mainly the protector of sailors and fishermen. St Nicholas Day - Nikulden - is a great winter festival in this country, during which people tell the stories about St Nicholas, the commander of the sea, who calms wind and storms and saves the ships in danger. Like Greek sailors, Bulgarians keep icons of the Saint on shipboard, seeking protection from the storms. Sailors' wives put his icons into the sea, with a prayer to bring their husbands safely back to the shore.
The autumn fishing season ends on Nikulden. Fishermen eat the first fish caught right on the shore, before bringing home the rest. Crowds of people go to church, light candles and pray. The special feast dish is “ribnik” - a carp wrapped in dough or baked with rice. This tradition of eating carp on St Nicholas’ feast is associated with a legend, by which he saved the sinking ship by stuffing a live carp in the hole of the hull.
In Russia, the legend of St Nicholas became popular in the 11th century, when Prince Vladimir brought the stories of his miracles from Constantinople. Since that time the feast of St Nicholas has been observed in Russia, moving to December 20 with the adoption of the new calendar. For centuries St Nicholas was honoured equally with the Holy Mother and Jesus Christ. He was considered in Russia a national Saint, the protector of peasants and common people. During the Communist government St Nicholas’ image was replaced by Ded Moroz (or Grandfather Frost), similar to already widely spread Santa Claus, wearing blue instead of red. This character was connected to the New Year feast.
St Nicholas. Russian icon, Novgorod, 13th century.
Taken from http://ru-icons.ru/part10/part102/1_1_80-3.htm
Anyway, St Nicholas Christian tradition survived and nowadays is widely celebrated in Orthodox Church. People are used to pray to him in any kind of need – mothers pray when sending their sons to the war, maidens pray before the marriage for having a happy family, travellers pray before leaving home. St Nicholas is a great healer and a protector of all waters on the Earth. In the fairy-tales and legends about the travelling into another world he meets the dead at the paradise gates, opening them with a big key. In the 12-13th centuries they put a letter to St Nicholas into the hands of the dead, with the prayers for forgiveness of sins.
In some regions there was an ancient tradition – making a “wordly candle”. At the feast table the master served honey in combs, and the chewed honeycombs were put into a cup with the water. At the end they made a huge candle of this beeswax.
In these countries St Nicholas acts in his traditional role as a patron saint of the children, encouraging them to behave well. Usually children find small gifts under their pillows or in their shoes on the morning of December 6. The special cookies are made for St Nicholas Day, with honey and spices, known as “pierniki” in Poland, or “mykolaichiki” in Ukraine. The ancient Ukrainian folk tradition among peasants was brewing on this day.
Sviatyi Mykolai. Ukrainian stamp, 2002.
Taken from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stamp_Svyatyi_Mykolay_2002.jpg