Today is St. Nicholas Day. St. Nicholas lived in the fourth century, and he was the archbishop of Myra in Lycia (which is now Turkey). There are all kinds of stories about him, but one of the most famous is that there was a poor man who could not afford a dowry for his three daughters, which meant they would have to be abandoned to prostitution. St. Nicholas didn't want to humiliate the man by giving him charity in public, so he left purses of gold in the man's house at night — according to one version of the story, he dropped them down the chimney, and in another, one of the daughters had set out her stockings to dry and the gold was put in them. And so St. Nicholas, the bringer of anonymous gifts, inspired Jolly Old St. Nick, Father Christmas, and Santa Claus.
St. Nicholas Day is celebrated in many European countries and in American cities with German influence like Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. On the evening of December 5th, children put out their shoes, and on this morning, they wake up to find those shoes filled with small gifts from St. Nick — chocolates and cookies, fruit, marbles or other small toys.
Lifted from The Writer's Almanac
For his help to the poor, Nicholas is the patron saint of pawnbrokers; the three gold balls traditionally hung outside a pawnshop symbolize the three sacks of gold. People then began to suspect that he was behind a large number of other anonymous gifts to the poor, using the inheritance from his wealthy parents. After he died, people in the region continued to give to the poor anonymously, and such gifts were still often attributed to St. Nicholas.