December 6th is Nikolaus day in Germany, a tradition that comes very close to the North American Christmas. The evening before Nikolaus, children put a boot in front of the door. If they were good children in the past year, they will find the boot filled with goodies the next morning. Parents shamelessly use the occasion to demand that every single shoe in the household has to be cleaned.
Unlike cheerful Santa Claus however, Nikolaus comes with a dark companion, called Knecht Ruprecht. Knecht Ruprecht doesn't wear red and white, but black and brown, and he carries with him a rod and a sack. If you haven't been a good kid, or didn't convincingly clean your stupid boots, you'll get hit with the rod. If you really messed it up (say, by writing silly comments on other people's blogs), you'll get packed in the sack and carried away to his home in the black forest.
Well, yes, that's not politically correct, but that's how the story goes. Another thing that is probably politically incorrect is how my granny used to tell the story. In her version, the evil Knecht Ruprecht wasn't from the black forest, but was actually black and from Africa. If you want to see what Knecht Ruprecht allegedly looks like, check the Wikipedia entry Companions of Saint Nicholaus. Then have another look at your boots, and reconsider if you really think they are clean enough.
Though the origin of the European Knecht Ruprecht tradition is kind of unclear, Saint Nicholas goes back to a real person. Saint Nicholas lived in the 4th century, when he was bishop of Myra, which is today Demre in the Antalya province of Turkey. Saint Nicholaus had a reputation for secret gift-giving (though I wonder how secret it can have been if he had a reputation for it).
Saint Nicholaus is also the patron saint of sailors.
Have a wonderful Christmas season, and keep your boots clean!