Saint Nicholas Day is on the 6th of December, but the celebrating of it begins on the eve thereof (5th). It’s quite a blast being in the country during this celebration!
According to legend, St. Nicholas was a very wealthy bishop. He was from Myra in Asia Minor (now known as Turkey) and lived in the 4th century. His wealth was aquired after his parents died, leaving him a fortune! However, although he was very rich, he had developed a reputation of giving to the poor. One thing he was especially known for was giving them secret gifts.
The most famous tale of St Nicholas explains the origins of hanging Christmas stockings. It goes like this:
A poor man once had three daughters. He was so poor that he didn't have enough money to pay dowry, which meant that his daughters never could get married. When Nicholas found out, he snuck onto the roof of the poor mans house one night, and dropped a sachel of gold down the chimney. It landed in the stockings that had been left over the fireplace to dry. This money allowed for the first daughter to get married.
Nicholas did the same for the second daughter. The poor man was curious to find out who was giving them this money. One night he stayed up by the fireplace and caught Nicholas. Nicholas begged for the man not to tell anyone, but eventually word got out. If anybody recieved some gift, they would assume that it came from Nicholas.
He was later made into a saint. Later in his life he was exiled from Myra and put in prison during the persecution of Emperor Diocletian. The date of his death remains a mystery, but the assumption is that he died on December 6th, 345 or 352.
In Prague, the children can go out with their parents to Old Town Square from around 5pm to 8pm to experience the tradition. You will see groups of three people dressed up as Saint Nicholas, the devil (čert), and an angel (anděl), all walking the the streets. Saint Nicholas will stop them and ask the children if they’ve been good or not. Usually they reply with a “yes,” and then they’re rewarded with candy by the angel. If for whatever reason the child responds by saying “no,” then the devil will give them potatoes or coal (although technically he’s supposed to put them in his sack and drag them to hell!).
Later that night, the children will clean their shoes (not always) and wake up in the morning to find them filled with treats. Depending on the family’s way of practicing the tradition, the treats can also be found in a pillow, or by the window.
The US ‘Santa Claus’ and the British ‘Father Christmas’ derive from the St. Nicholas tradition, although they practice the gift giving part on Christmas instead of on a separate day. Czech kids have it so good! They get a bunch of treats on Saint Nicholas Day and on Christmas eve!
Krampusnacht, which is in conjuction with the tradition on the 5th, is celebrated in different parts of the country, including Prague. People will go around dressing has the terriying Krampus (the demonic companion of St. Nikolas, or the čert) from German folklore. You will find that the Czechs borrowed a lot of traditions from their neighbor in the west.