“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.”
The custom and myth of Santa Claus filling stockings really came to America in 1823 when newspaper publisher Clement Moore printed, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and --voila--Santa, that chubby old elf dressed in red velvet, Saint Nick, became a celebrity, and has been filling Christmas stockings on Christmas Eve in every home with children ever since. “Up on the Housetop” has become a holiday anthem to celebrate that particular Christmas magic. That’s the current American tradition. Stick a pin in it, as we’ll be coming back, after we take a peek around the world.
Christmas Customs Around the World
The Christian tradition about Christmas stockings is that the “real” Saint Nick was Saint Nicholas of the Greek Orthodox Church. This Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna, was thought to have anonymously slipped coins or small toys in the shoes of poor children to celebrate the birth of the Savior. The tradition of being dressed in red and white was drawn from the formal red and white bishop robes. Red and white candy canes were derived from the shepherd’s crook staff symbolically carried by bishops.
So, Eastern Orthodox helped give us the Saint Nicholas-Santa tradition, and the secret gifts for good children. The practice of giving gifts to poor children echos the life of Jesus, born in a stable, a poor refugee child, given gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Many Christmas traditions are a confused mix of the religious and secular and of older originally religious pagan solstice practices. It is thought the early Christians chose to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25 because so many solstice celebrations were already in place throughout the Román Empire.
In Italy a folk hero was Old Befana, the good witch who rode her broom around on Christmas to leave toys for good children, and in Russia the children’s patron was Father Christmas, aka Old Man Winter, who came on New Year’s with a bag of goodies. In Jolly Old England the Wise Men or Magi from the Bible story in the gospel of Matthew were rumored to deliver gifts on Twelfth Night (Epiphany). The burning of the Yule log was handed down from the Druids.. In Spanish-speaking countries there are still processions (posadas) re-enacting the story of Mary and Joseph being turned away from inn after inn. On the final night Mary and Joseph (and the donkey) are welcomed in for food, fiesta and pinatas.
In early America Eupean immigrant children did not hang stockings nor wait up for Santa with milk and cookies. The pilgrims were in revolt against the “ungodly” frivolities of British Christmas. The Puritans and their children spent the day of Christmas (Christ’s Mass) in sober and solemn hours-long worship services of prayer and sermons. No stockings.
Happily, America is a country of many traditions, and there is a mix of them all in America today.
Making Christmas Stockings
Christmas stockings in America were, maybe still are in some families, one of a child’s own daily wear stockings, and there is a rationale to limiting the amount of sweets a child could be permitted to consume based on the size of the stocking. Today, in general Christmas stockings are more ceremonial in nature. They are constructed for the holiday and retired to the attic or shed the remainder of the year, until the next Christmas calls them back to grace the hearth or it’s substitute.
Traditionally, Christmas stockings are red or white, the St. Nick colors, possibly with gold trim or pearl beading. Today’s Christmas stockings are knitted or made of felt, fuzzy or covered in glitter, and found in a rainbow of colors, including black and white houndstooth to purple and orange plaid. I have seen Christmas stockings with curling elf toes and others with mermaid tails! Christmas stockings can be found with storybook and superhero themes. I saw one lovely set covered in pink roses. These days the sky is the limit. Handmade and customized
Before the current COVID pandemic put the kibosh on such public gatherings, Christmas stockings were often to be found at church holiday fairs and bazaars. Church ladies worked all year on handicrafts to sell at Christmas to raise funds for the poor.
And while we are on that topic of making things by hand, Just Abi has hand drawn, delightfully decorated Christmas stockings for LovelyandStrong.com. She transformed the omnipresent unicorn theme to a series she calls Chrismacorns, “more unique than unicorns.” These adorable critters, such as Rascal Raccoonicorn, Sammy Slothacorn and Llinda Llamacorn (and seven more!) can be found in LovelyandStrong on pajamas, tees, yoga pants, mugs, Christmas cards and--you guessed--Christmas stockings! (As an aside to parents, matching cozy flannel pajamas are nice for watching Christmas movies on the night before Christmas.)
Lovely and Strong Featured Guest Artist Lisa Harris has loaned her Christmas creations to the holiday cause, and you can find Christmas stockings (and all the other holiday swag) with starry skies, children skiing and owls celebrating wisdom by moonlight here.
Christmas Treats for Santa
Children in America for several generations now have been raised with the notion that cookies and milk needed to be left out for a hungry Santa and any elf helpers, possibly a carrot or two for the reindeer. Most discovered that Santa is a messy eater, leaving lots of crumbs on his plate and his hot chocolate mug not quite emptied.
To delight Santa this year, let me recommend providing Santa with milk or hot chocolate in a mug featuring the delightful Chrismacorns. Perhaps a set of 10 to accommodate the whole family at Christmas brunch! I am going to ask Chef Taylor LaTouche for her favorite cookie recipes in addition to her oatmeal energy bars.
But for those Santa’s Helpers who are the active stuffers of stockings, here are some ideas for stocking stuffers:
Cute little bottles of hand sanitizer from Big Lots, tangerines and candy canes from King Soopers, chapsticks from Target and tiny dolls or stuffed animals from Amazon.
Gift cards to Walmart, the Denver Art Museum, or the YMCA would fit into a stocking for any age. (Remember the Silver Sneakers!)
Pets, too, often have dedicated stockings, for chewy toys or Dentastix or bright new collars that Petsmart would be happy to supply.
For the not so little princesses or the grown-up queens in your life, consider gemstone or meteorite jewelry from LovelyandStrong.com. Jewelry fits so nicely into a Christmas stocking! Caution: this may lead to much kissing on Christmas morning.
Any more questions? Contact me at michele@LovelyandStrong.com