Learn the Christmas stockings legend and history
Why Do We Hang Christmas Stockings by the Fireplace?
Legend has it that Saint Nicholas loved to give gifts. To prevent people from learning where these gifts came from, he would leave them at night. Others say that the reason he would leave gifts at night is because he was very shy, and wanted to give money to poor people without them knowing about it. The reason we use Christmas Stockings is told below.
The Legend of Christmas Stockings
One well accepted legend tells about a kindly nobleman whose wife had died of an illness leaving the nobleman and his three daughters in despair. After losing all his money in useless and bad inventions the family had to move into a peasant's cottage, where the daughters did their own cooking, sewing and cleaning.
When it came time for the daughters to marry, the father became even more depressed as his daughters could not marry. At this time the only way a woman could marry was if she had a dowry (money and property given to the new husband's family).
One night after the daughters had washed out their clothing they hung their stockings over the fireplace to dry. That night Saint Nicholas, knowing the despair of the father, stopped by the nobleman's house. Looking in the window Saint Nicholas saw that the family had gone to bed. He also noticed the daughters stockings. Inspiration struck Saint Nicholas and he took three small bags of gold coins from his pouch and threw them one by one down the chimney and they landed in the stockings.
The next morning when the daughters awoke they found their stockings contained enough gold for them to get married. The nobleman was able to see his three daughters marry and he lived a long and happy life. Word quickly spread of this good fortune and soon people all through the village were hanging their stockings by the fire in hopes that Saint Nicholas would leave them treasures also.
From this was born the legend of Santa coming down the chimney and placing gifts in children's Christmas Stockings.
The Items in your Christmas Stockings
Some people believe that an orange in the toe of Christmas stockings symbolize the lump of gold Saint Nicholas left for the girls. Others believe that an apple in the toe of your stocking and an orange in the heel means that you have been good. Up until lately, it was traditional to receive small items like fruit, nuts and candy in your Christmas stockings, but these have been replaced in the last half-century by more expensive gifts in many homes.
Many believe the tradition of a lump of coal in the Christmas stockings of naughty children comes from Italy.
International Traditions of Christmas Stockings
Children all over the world continue the tradition of hanging Christmas stockings or a similar custom.
In Hungary children shine their shoes before putting them near the door or a window sill.
Many believe that the Dutch introduced Christmas stockings to America. During the 16th Century children in Holland would leave their clogs by the hearth. They would fill them with straw for the reindeer or "donkey" as the reindeer were called. A treat for Santa was left in the house near the warm fire. In return "Sinterklass" would leave the children treats. Later the clogs would become Christmas stockings and the Saint known to all as Santa Claus.
In France the children place their shoes by the fireplace, a tradition dating back to when children wore wooden peasant shoes.
Italian children leave their shoes out the night before Epiphany, January 5, for La Befana the good witch. La Befana fills good children's shoes with toys and candy and those who have been bad receive rocks and ashes.
In Puerto Rico children put greens and flowers in small boxes and place them under their beds for the camels of the Three Kings.
In Quebec and Acadia, children traditionally put their shoes close to the fireplace so that the Infant Jesus, and later "Père Noël" (Father Christmas), could put gifts there on Christmas Eve. This custom, which probably came to us from European countries where it was a common practice in the 19th century, does not seem to have survived this period.
In some Quebec families, children hung their Christmas stockings at the end of their bed rather than hanging them close to the fireplace or putting out their shoes. This custom ended during the 1930s when Christmas trees started to be set up in houses with gifts placed underneath.
Japanese oranges have a special meaning to the people who live in the Canadian Prairies. A gift from the East, their arrival at the coldest time of the year has brightened many homes and Christmas feasts for 110 years. To many, the festive season begins when Santa Claus welcomes the first major shipment of Japanese mandarin oranges at the Port of Vancouver, accompanied by young Japanese girls dressed in tradition kimonos. On Christmas morning the flavorful fruit find their way into many children's Christmas stockings.
In North America, the first images of Christmas stockings hung by the fireplace were drawn by the illustrator, Thomas Nast, and by the writer, George Webster, in a story about Santa.
Whatever the legend, finding a Christmas stocking on Christmas morning is magical and joyful!
4 Creative Ideas for Making Christmas Stockings
- A man's Christmas stocking could be made in the shape of a work boot or sewn from plaid flannel with a pocket on the front. Use an old shirt.
- A gardener's stocking could be made from burlap.
- An executive's stocking could be made from striped shirting with a tie in front.
- What about a Christmas stocking in the shape of rollerblades?
The possibilities are endless. Have fun!
Hang Your Christmas Stockings with Care!
Here are 7 ideas for hanging your Christmas stockings:
- Find some pretty brass or ceramic stocking hangers that sit on the mantel for the easiest and quickest way to hang stockings. Hook the loop on the stocking over the hanger.
- String a garland across the mantel and secure the ends well with thumbtacks or staples. Then clothespin your stockings to the garland. (Be aware that the garland probably won't bear much weight and the Christmas stockings should be empty while hanging.)
- Hammer small nails gently into the mantel and hang your Christmas stockings directly onto the nails. Hide the nails with garland or sprigs of mistletoe.
- Use small wire twists or pretty bows to tie your stockings to a rail or banister if you don't have a fireplace.
- Do hang your Christmas stockings with care - you don't want them catching fire from the fireplace, nearby candles or Christmas lights on the mantel.
- Do not hang Christmas stockings above a lit fireplace.
- Reconsider the brass or ceramic stocking holders if you have small children. If a child pulls on the stocking, the heavy holders may come crashing down, causing injury.
10 Fun Ways to Decorate and Personalize Your Christmas Stockings!
- Write your name in glue across the top portion of the stocking. Then sprinkle glitter across the glue until the glue is covered. Shake off excess glitter.
- Use iron-on letters to personalize your Christmas stocking. Arrange letters appropriately on the stocking and then press in place with an iron.
- Cut out Christmas shapes from holiday print fabrics and appliqué the shapes onto the stocking. Use Christmas cookie cutters as patterns for your appliqués.
- Purchase or make pompoms or tassels to hang from the top of your stocking.
- Apply coordinating trim or cording around the cuff of your Christmas stocking. These can be sewn or glued on. Use metallic trimmings or trimmings done in holiday reds and greens.
- Trim the cuff of your stocking with fringe or lace. As with other trims, these items can be glued or sewn onto your stocking.
- Embroider your initials or name onto a fabric cuff. Try tacking down thin cording with a needle and thread to place your initials or name on a cuff that's furry or fuzzy. You can carefully glue the cording in place as well.
- Avoid using a glue stick to write your name. You can achieve a more precise line if you use glue that comes in a squeeze bottle.
- Practice writing on a paper towel or scrap fabric until you feel comfortable applying glue to the Christmas stocking.