Long before Christmas trees were readily available, stockings were hung on the fireplace in anticipation of Santa's arrival and the gifts he would bring. Like the wooden shoes set out by Dutch children, those stockings were well-worn, everyday apparel - far different from the oversize and personalized Christmas stockings hung by children today.
A century ago, a great debate pitted evergreen trees against the then traditional Christmas stockings. In time, most families adopted both customs; today Christmas stockings and Christmas trees are happily featured - and amply decorated - in many American homes.
St. Nicholas threw gold into the stockings of three poor maidens. ("The stockings were hung by the chimney with care" is a tradition related to one of the many legends about St. Nicholas. Learning of three sisters who remained unmarried for lack of dowries, Nicholas secretly tossed gold coins down their chimney. Stockings hanging at the fireplace to dry, caught the falling coins.) Although few of us can afford to fill stockings with gold, we enjoy Christmas stockings as festive decorations and receptacles for gifts.
Stockings can be any size, shape, or construction - from Cinderella's glass slipper to a logger's cleat-studded boot. And any stocking can be personalized with appliques, ribbons, bells, sequins, and charms.
- Let the stockings collect hopes, dreams, and secret messages by allowing only written or symbolic gifts.
- Hang stockings early so all family members can drop gifts in.
- Encourage inexpensive, recycled, or simple handmade gifts.
- Hang only one stocking for the entire family.
- Hand a stocking for Baby Jesus: ask each member of the family to put something in it - a promise written on a piece of paper, a check for world hunger, a symbol of an intention to change a bad habit.
- Kristin M Tucker and Rebecca Lowe Warren, Celebrate the Wonder: A Family Christmas Treasury