Memories of the Christmas Stocking
The Christmas stocking is part of many family Christmas traditions. It is often a special treat for the children or sometimes enjoyed by adults who want to hang onto a little bit of childhood and use this as a way to share little trinkets with one another. The stockings can be a little precursor to the other gifts to come, and perhaps entertain impatient little ones who have gotten up at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning.
The tradition of the Christmas stocking seems to trace back to our European heritage. There is one story of a peasant who lost his wife and was afraid that he wouldn’t have enough dowry money for his daughters to get married. Saint Nicholas heard of his plight and knew he was a proud man, so one night he went over his house
and dropped bags of gold coins down the chimney. The girls had their stockings hanging by the fireplace to dry,
and the coins dropped into them. They now had money for a dowry, got married and lived happily ever after. So after that other children did the same in hopes of also having good fortune.
Another story is that the custom was derived from the German/Scandinavian figure Odin. As Odin flew from house to house at Christmas with his horse, Sleipnir, children filled their boots with carrots, straw and sugar; then Odin left the children gifts and candy in return for feeding his horse. Later they shifted to leaving out stockings.
In American folklore we can at least trace the Christmas stocking back to the 1823 poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and the mention that the “Stockings were hung by the chimney with care in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.” I remember back at home the Christmas stocking was an important part of Christmas. Usually while my father was still out in the barn doing the morning milking, we would sneak down the stairs and open our stockings. Since we had a hot coal stove in front of the mantle, we hung them on each side of the seldom-used front door. We used our gray, wool, boot-socks which had the red tops and attached them with a thumb tack to the casing boards. It was amazing what my mother could fit into a stocking. As we first came upon the stockings, it was always with great curiosity that we tried to figure out what all the little bumps and lumps were as we took them down. Often in the toe was an orange or a tangerine; then a little book of lifesavers with different flavors like butterscotch, cherry and root beer; some loose hard candy; pencils; sometimes one of those “Slinky” toys; perhaps a whistle; a package of marbles; a box of Cracker Jacks; and just no end of fun little things.
As if that wasn’t challenge enough for my mother to fill, she then made us custom stockings out of an old pillow case. While writing this article, I went up into my attic, and sure enough, I found it packed in with some things my mother gave me when they moved out of the farmhouse. It measures 24” long, 8” wide at the top and 12” wide across the bottom of the foot. It has “John” written across the front of it and drawings of Christmas trees and stars, with paper Christmas stickers pasted all over it. This larger stocking opened up all kinds of possibilities. Then there were additional things like a box of chocolate cherries; a can of cashew nuts; little games like pick-up sticks, cards, etc.; some small tools; a baseball and much more. I don’t know how my mother came up with all those things. Usually both my brother and I had almost identical contents in our stockings so there wouldn’t be any disagreements.
As your families assemble for Christmas this year, remember these little things that you do are precious traditions and will become fond memories well into the future as little ones grow to be adults.
Reprinted from December 17, 2014, NH Dept. of Agriculture, Markets, & Food Weekly Market Bulletin
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