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Traditions: History of Stockings

It’s (one of) the most wonderful times of the year for me! Between the baking, hanging the stockings, Christmas tree decorating,  and time spent with family and friends, I am full of Christmas cheer. That being said – I wanted to do our Traditions blog a little differently this month and talk about a topic we all know and love – the holidays of course! There are so many questions I have about holiday traditions I could go on for days. From gifting friends to mistletoe there is really no limit to what we can delve into. For me, my favorite part of Christmas is surprisingly something a little overlooked in the grand scheme of it all.

Stockings hung on a mantle by the letters L, O, V, E

Stockings!

“And their stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there”.  Though I am a Florida native, I still enjoy the cool weather (for the entirety of December, then I’m ready for beach season)! We don’t personally have a chimney/fireplace set up in our house, so we have to improvise with mantles, shelves, and overhangs. It still works, though.

As a child, my mom would fill our stockings to the brim with little knick-knacks and special snacks we only celebrated with around this time of year. Santa did bring toys and our families swapped presents, stockings were one of my favorite things to look forward to. I still like to fill one up from time to time to give to friends these days. It’s something about the little bite-sized gifts you have to brainstorm to find and fit into a stocking that just makes my heart so happy.

Red and green miniature stockings hung by clothespins into garland

It’s all about the stockings today! Where they came from, what traditions they hold, and why in the world we stuff them with trinkets. So, without further ado, let’s discuss.

The History of Stockings:

According to Wikipedia, “the tradition of the Christmas stocking is thought to originate from the life of Saint Nicholas.” Though we’ve all heard the idea of Santa, this pushed me to investigate further. As it turns out, this article discusses how Nikolaos was the Greek Bishop of Myra in present day Turkey way back in the early 4th centuries AD. He was the son of wealthy Christian parents that unfortunately died in a plague. Thus, he went to live with his uncle. Nikolaous’s uncle was a very devout man. He taught Nikolaous to “sell what you have and give money to the poor”.

One day, he heard of three young daughters who belonged to a local townsman. As we discussed in our “History of Marriage” blog, dowry was indeed a large factor when it came to marrying off daughters in this era. That being said, unfortunately the man had no dowry to give as he had fallen on some bad luck. This meant that the daughters would be sold in slavery or prostitution as no man in this age would accept a woman without a hefty sum of money provided for the marriage. (so glad to be living in the 21st century!)

Red and white stockings hung on hooks by a Christmas tree

Then one night…

As the story goes, Nikolaos was determined to help but knew of the father to these young girls. He was much too prideful to take money from aid of any kind. So that night, the father washed the girls stockings and had the young ladies hang them out to dry. While they were sleeping, Nikolaous took handfuls of gold and placed them in each of their drying stockings. The girls awoke in the morning to find the gold and were able to buy their way out of slavery and find good husbands. In other versions of this story, the girls hung their stockings up by the fireplace to dry.

This led to the custom of children hanging their stockings and socks by the fireplace. Or, as in France, putting out their shoes for Saint Nick to fill with gifts overnight. Eventually these socks evolved into the special Christmas stockings we put out today. They were originally put out on Saint Nicholas Day (the 5th or 6th of December) but in the early 1800s transitioned to Christmas Eve which is what we now celebrate with today.

The Stocking Tradition Lives On:

Today of course, there are tons of colors, styles, patterns and textures to choose from. What does yours look like?! Personally, I have a few. My favorite will always be my childhood stocking. It features a white bear head (complete with a Santa hat) with a Christmas red and green stocking body. My little brothers (I have two) both had a brown bear and a grey mouse respectively. Christmas holds so many memories, and finding out the why behind the stockings traditions just enhances this for me. I hope you learned something too!

Roses, baby's breath, and greenery overflowing out of a white fur stocking
Photo by Tracy Townsend Photography

I really enjoy putting these blogs together for my readers and if there’s ever a topic that’s burning question for you, I’d love to know! Until next time, I hope your stockings are hung and ready for Saint Nick to fill come Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas (and Happy Holidays) to all!

Love,

Brittani

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