Saint Nicholas (Ἅγιος Νικόλαος, Hagios ["Saint", literally "Holy", Latin: Sanctus] Nicolaos ["victory of the people"]) (270 - 6 December 343) also called Nikolaos of Myra, was a historic 4th-century saint and Greek Bishop of Myra (Demre, part of modern-day Turkey) in Lycia. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker (Νικόλαος ὁ Θαυματουργός, Nikolaos ho Thaumaturgos). He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself from a series of elisions and corruptions of the transliteration of "Saint Nikolaos". His reputation evolved among the faithful, as was common for early Christian saints. In 1087, his relics were furtively translated to Bari, in southeastern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nikolaos of Bari. His feastday is 6 December [O.S. 19 December].
The historical Saint Nicholas is remembered and revered among Catholic and Orthodox Christians. He is also honored by various Anglican and Lutheran churches. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, thieves, children, and students in various countries in the Balkans and Eastern Europe (Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Greece, Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia), as well as in parts of Western Europe (Belgium, France, Netherlands, Portugal). He is also the patron saint of Aberdeen, Amsterdam, Barranquilla, Bari, Beit Jala, Fribourg, Huguenots, Kozani, Liverpool, Paternopoli, Sassari, Siggiewi and Lorraine. He was also a patron of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors, who protected his relics in Bari.
Nicholas was born a Greek in Asia Minor during the third century in the city of Patara (Lycia et Pamphylia), which was a port on the Mediterranean Sea, and lived in Myra, Lycia (part of modern-day Demre, Turkey), at a time when the region was Greek in its heritage culture, and outlook and was part of the Roman diocese of Asia. He was the only son of wealthy Christian parents named Epiphanius (Ἐπιφάνιος) and Johanna (Ἰωάννα) according to some accounts and Theophanes (Θεοφάνης) and Nonna (Νόννα) according to others. He was very religious from an early age and according to legend, Nicholas was said to have rigorously observed the canonical fasts of Wednesdays and Fridays. His wealthy parents died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young and he was raised by his uncle-also named Nicholas-who was the bishop of Patara. He tonsured the young Nicholas as a reader, and later as presbyter (priest).
The tradition of Saint Nicholas Day, usually on 6 December ( O.S.19 December in most Orthodox countries), is a festival for children in many countries in Europe related to surviving legends of the saint, and particularly his reputation as a bringer of gifts. The American Santa Claus, as well as the Anglo-Canadian and British Father Christmas, derive from these legends. "Santa Claus" is itself derived from the Dutch Sinterklaas
In Northern Germany, Nikolaus is usually celebrated on a small scale. Many children put a boot called Nikolaus-Stiefel (Nikolaus boot) outside the front door on the night of 5 December. St. Nicholas fills the boot with gifts and sweets overnight, and at the same time checks up on the children to see if they were good, polite and helpful the last year. If they were not, they will have a tree branch (Rute) in their boots instead.
Sometimes a Nikolaus impersonator also visits the children at school or in their homes and asks them if they have been good (sometimes ostensibly checking his golden book for their record), handing out presents on the basis of their behavior. This has become more lenient in recent decades, and this task is often taken over by the Weihnachtsmann (Santa Claus). In more catholic regions, Nikolaus is dressed very much like a bishop and rides on a horse, welcomed at public places by a large crowd.
Typical in the German speaking countries for Saint Nicholas Day is the Stutenkerl, a pastry made of sweet leavened dough.