Stockings through the ages… They not only hold Santa Claus intrigue and fun for kids, now they’re totally part of our holiday decorating schemes. Even our fur babies get their own stockings now.
In the Kowalski households, one of my favorite childhood (and parenthood) traditions is hanging the Christmas stockings on the mantel over the fireplace. I remember as a kid, racing down the stairs on Christmas morning to find my stocking filled with gifts, candy and special treats from Old Saint Nick. When we were kids, Mom and Dad used to hang our stockings over the fire place in the living room, of course it was a really long line of stockings! When we had our own children, the tradition continued. Jackie and I were very careful to be sure the exact amount of goodies were in each stocking (the girls counted of course). We included candy, little toys, and misc. things that would delight the kids. A friend of mine said his Mom used to put an orange/tangerine in each toe, along with candy and small gifts, and always included a pretzel rod/stick poking out the top (the first thing to eat). As the kids got older, the contents shifted from candy to more useful items (DVD’s, make-up, nail polish, socks, candy, various hair products-many that still leave me slightly bewildered! Always keeping the “fun” in Christmas morning, Jackie and I love watching the girls (ladies) still go for the stockings first!!!) Here’s a little stocking and holiday trivia, along with some fun 2018 “stocking stuffer” links to ideas. And, if you have family stocking traditions, be sure to email me and share them.
- While there are no written records of the origin of the Christmas stocking, there are popular legends that attempt to tell the history of this Christmas tradition. One such legend has several variations, but the following is a good example:
Very long ago, there lived a poor man and his three very beautiful daughters. He had no money to get his daughters married, and he was worried what would happen to them after his death. Saint Nicholas was passing through when he heard the villagers talking about the girls and wanted to help, but knew that the old man wouldn’t accept charity. He decided to help in secret. After dark, he threw three bags of gold through an open window. When the girls and their father woke up the next morning, they found the bags of gold and were, of course, overjoyed. The girls were able to get married and live happily ever after.
- Other versions of the story say that Saint Nicholas threw the three bags of gold directly into the stockings which were hung by the fireplace to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas.
- Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so, St. Nicholas is a gift-giver. In the US, oranges/tangerines were popular during the “war”, when fresh fruit was considered a luxury in households, and a sign of health/encouragement.
- A tradition that began in a European country originally, children simply used one of their everyday socks, but eventually special Christmas stockings were created for this purpose. The Christmas stocking custom is derived from the Germanic/Scandinavian figure Odin. According writings, children would place their boots, filled with carrots, straw, or sugar, near the chimney for Odin’s flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat. Odin would reward those children for their kindness by replacing Sleipnir’s food with gifts or candy. Today of course, the kids put out cookies for Santa, and carrots for his reindeer to eat.
- Nicholas had an earlier merging with the Grandmother cult in Bari, Italy where the grandmother would put gifts in stockings. This Italian St. Nicholas would later travel north and merge with the Odin cults.
- As far back as 1823, when Clement Clarke Moore wrote “A Visit From Saint Nicholas,” the poem begins, “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.” At the end of the poem, St. Nick “fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk, And laying his finger aside of his nose / And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.”
- Each year, something peculiar happens on the eve of December 5 (St Nicholas Day Dec 6th) Children across Germany each leave a single boot outside their doorsteps, which is then magically filled overnight with chocolate and sweets. Other cultures in Europe and beyond have also taken to celebrating similar traditions either on the same date or stretched out throughout the holiday season. Unlike so many Christian saints who are revered and remembered by the pious few, Nicholas is celebrated by religious and non-religious alike. His reach goes beyond the walls of the church and the pages of church history to the hearts of children and the imaginations of parents.
- Many families create their own Christmas stockings, with each family member’s name applied to the stocking so that Santa will know which stocking belongs to which family member. As the tradition in America grew, so did the retail and commercial representation of named stockings. Many a household would embroider the names on to the tops of stockings.
- When it comes to the fabric options for Christmas stockings, the most common types are wool, velvet, felt, quilted soft cotton, cozy cable knit and burlap. Velvet stockings are the perfect addition to a classic Christmas theme, while burlap stockings are a trendy statement in a modern or rustic theme.
- According to the Guinness World Records, the long standing “largest” recorded Christmas stocking measured 168 ft. 5.65 in in length and 70 ft. 11.57 in. in width (heel to toe), produced by a volunteer emergency services organization in Carrara, Tuscany, Italy, in January 2011. To fulfill the Guinness guideline that the stocking contain presents, volunteers filled it with balloons containing sweets.
- The world’s “newest” largest Christmas stocking – a 1,600-pound, 7,700-square-foot behemoth that took more than a year to create, was unveiled at Fayetteville’s Arnette Park; the stocking, which is 139 feet tall and 74 feet wide, was created with yarn from Caron United, a Washington, N.C.-based company. Knitters from all 50 states, four Canadian provinces and Ireland helped create the record-setting stocking by donating 3-foot by 3-foot swatches of knitted yard that were later sewn together. Caron donated part of the proceeds from yarn sales to provide more than $100,000 for scholarships for children of fallen U.S. troops.
- Normal Rockwell, a world-famous illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post, made hundreds of fantastic images of the holidays, including Santa Claus, families, and children, with stockings hung by the chimney in the background. At KHT, we’ve enjoy them so much, we continue to feature his work in our yearly client calendar.