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The term Weihnachtsmann is a very generic German term for Father Christmas, St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus. The German Weihnachtsmann is a fairly recent Christmas tradition having little if any religious or folkloric background. In fact, the secular Weihnachtsmann only dates back to around the mid-19th century. As early as 1835, Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote the words to “Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann” — still a popular German Christmas carol. The first image depicting a bearded Weihnachtsmann in a hooded, fur mantle was a woodcut (Holzschnitt) by the Austrian painter Moritz von Schwind (1804-1871). Von Schwind’s first 1825 drawing was entitled “Herr Winter.” A second woodcut series in 1847 bore the title “Weihnachtsmann” and even showed him carrying a Christmas tree, but still had little resemblance to the modern Weihnachtsmann. Over the years, the Weihnachtsmann became a rough mixture of St. Nicholas and Knecht Ruprecht (one of St. Nicholas' companions). A 1932 survey found that German children were split about evenly along regional lines between believing in either the Weihnachtsmann or the Christkind. But today a similar survey would show the Weihnachtsmann winning out in almost all of Germany – except for most Catholic areas.
In Central European folklore, Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure described as "half-goat, half-demon", who, during the Christmas season, punishes children who have misbehaved. This contrasts with Saint Nicholas, who rewards the well-behaved with gifts. Krampus is one of the companions of Saint Nicholas in several regions including Austria, Bavaria, Croatia, Hungary, Northern Italy including South Tyrol and the Trentino, and Slovenia. The origin of the figure is unclear; some folklorists and anthropologists have postulated it as having pre-Christian origins.
In traditional parades and in such events as the Krampuslauf (English: Krampus run), young men dressed as Krampus participate. Such events occur annually in most Alpine towns.
Saint Nicholas Day is observed on December 6 or on the eve of December 5 in Western Christian countries.
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 last year. If they were not, they would have a stick (eine Rute) in their boots instead.