A history of……… The Christmas Stocking

Every Christmas, so many children get very excited at the tradition of hanging up their Christmas stockings over the fireplace, in the hope that the following morning, they will be brimming with beautifully wrapped presents and fruit.

I am one of those excited ‘children’ and I suspect there are many more of us too!  I just love the days leading up to Christmas, the many preparations and the nostalgic festive atmosphere everywhere.  We rarely stop to consider the history behind the traditions we have at Christmas and as I sat at my sewing machine over the past few weeks, making lots of new Christmas stocking designs, I started to ponder on the stories behind this well-loved tradition.  There are several variations to the tale but this is one of my favourite version.

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 the village when he heard the villagers talking about the girls. St. Nicholas wanted to help, but knew that the elderly Man would not accept any charity, so he decided to help in secret.

After dark he threw three bags of gold coins through their open window, and one landed in a stocking. When the girls and their father woke up the next morning they found the bags of gold and were so overjoyed. The girls were able to get married and live happily ever after.

Other versions of this tale say that Saint Nicholas threw the three bags of gold directly into the stockings which were hung by the fireplace to dry and another says that Saint Nicholas threw three bags of gold coins down the chimney, and one landed in the stocking which the girls had left drying over the fireplace

Since that day, the custom of children hanging hung up their Christmas stockings on Christmas Eve, hoping to find that Saint Nicholas would fill them with gifts by the time they woke up the following morning.

In some countries, children have similar traditions, such as France where children place their shoes by the fireplace, which traditionally dates back to when peasants wore wooden shoes.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”