There are countless variations to the story, depending on what town you live in, but here's the version we observe:
Swiss children believe that Saint Nicholas lives in a house in the forest. On December 6, which is Saint Nicholas Day, he comes into town and visits the children in their homes. He is accompanied by a helper who is dressed in black, carries a large sack, and who doesn't speak (known as the "Schmutzli", which means "dirty one", or Black Peter). They usually also have a donkey with them. St. Nicholas carries a book in which is written what the children did well during the year, and what they need to improve.
St. Nicholas and the Schmutzli are invited into the house and sit down in a chair. The children come up to them, and St. Nicholas reads from his book. He praises the children for what they did well, and gets them to promise that they will correct what wasn't so good. If the children were generally well behaved during the year, they recite a short rhyme or story for St. Nicholas, then get a bag of mandarines, chocolates and nuts from Schmutzli's sack. Rumour has it that if the children have misbehaved too much, then Schmutzli will put them into his sack and take them away to the forest. For this reason, a large number of children are full of anxiety or actually afraid of St. Nicholas' visit. Their promises to St. Nicholas are sincere.
Since St. Nicholas visits on December 6, he doesn't visit again on Christmas Eve. The presents are brought by the Christkind (translated "Christ Child"), who is an angel. On December 24 the Christmas tree is decorated, a window is left open, then everyone leaves the room. Suddenly a bell rings and everyone rushes back in. The presents all lie under the Christmas tree and the candles are lit (many families here still have real candles on the Christmas tree). An adult looks out the window and cries: "Look! There goes the Christkind! I just saw him flying away!". The presents are often opened up on Christmas Eve too.
If you ever are visiting Switzerland on December 6, you will still see numerous St. Nicholas's walking the streets of the towns, going house to house. Local sports and social clubs organize the visits, and contact the parents in advance to arrange times and to find out what should be said to the children. We are thankful that this tradition is still continued today.
All of us at PDF Tools AG wish you, your family, and your friends a wonderful holiday season and prosperity in 2006. We look forward to working together with you again in the New Year.
Your pdf-tools.com team