As noted in part 1 (1986),
Saint Nicholas got himself posthumously associated with Christmas
by virtue of having had December 6 declared his "day",
which is just something they used to do to saints and means nothing
in these cynical modern times . . .
The interesting part is that
the yearly visitation to good little dutch children, complete
with gifts for the good and lumps of coal or switches for the
not-so-good originally took place on December 6 and had nothing
to do with Christmas! Of course, the Saturnalian revelry
that Christmas was supposed to supplant had from Roman times
a long tradition of gift giving, so it was inevitable that the
two December "gift holidays" should eventually merge.
Another day occasionally set
aside for gifts was "Twelfth Night", January 6, which
traditionally ends the period of Christmas festivities ("twelve
days of Christmas" and all that). It is traditional in some
cultures to set aside one gift for each child to be opened on
Also on the subject of Twelfth
Night, you should never remove Christmas decorations before then,
but be sure to take them all down and ditch the tree the very
next day, or bad luck is sure to follow. (It used to be safe,
until around the mid 1800's, to leave them up until February
2 if you so desired, but we are captives of our time and must
adhere to its dictates.)
As far as "our time"
is concerned, the ease with which we take for granted the 25th
of December as a Holiday belies its not-too-ancient status: at
the time Dickens' "Christmas Carol" was written it
was not acknowledged as such (except for the very rich),
and not until 1871 was Christmas made a day of rest in England!
A final note concerning everyone's
favorite Yuletide custom: mistletoe. Each time one steals a kiss
under it one must pluck a berry from it - when the berries are
gone, so are the kisses. Also, after Twelfth Night the mistletoe
must be burned, for if it is not those who kissed under it are
fated never to marry!