In Switzerland, Saint Nicholas is known as “Samichlaus” and officially visits children on December 6th, but he starts making appearances on the streets of Zurich several weeks before then. He is usually accompanied by Schmutzli (a dark-faced assistant who is ‘dirty’ from soot, according to the more politically-correct version of the local legend), and a donkey. Often there are multiple Schmutzlis per Samichlaus.
The Samichlauses you see on the streets of Zurich these days often hand out big handfuls of peanuts, oranges, and little chocolate candies (the same items he is rumored to leave in Swiss children’s shoes on the night of December 6th). Last year my husband was fishing peanuts out of the pockets of his winter coat for months.
Samichlaus’s duties are wrapped up after the 6th. So who brings the Christmas presents, you ask? That would be a winged baby Jesus, of course. You can read more about Swiss Christmas traditions here. Also I just noticed that Geoff at the Switzerland Traveler posted about Samichlaus, too. Check it out!