One of my favorite Christmas traditions growing up were the Christmas stockings my mom handmade and personalized for my brother and me. On Christmas Eve, we hung our stockings by the fireplace for Santa. Afterward, my father would read Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem The Night Before Christmas. The next morning, we all tromped excitedly downstairs first thing to find our stockings filled with all sorts of presents from Santa Clause. They always had a grapefruit in the toe of the stocking, which we would then eat as part of our Christmas breakfast.
So, where did the tradition of hanging stockings come from?
As mentioned in St. Nicholas’ Day: Who Was Santa Claus?, the tradition of gifts in stockings or shoes set out for St. Nick/Santa Claus is attributed to a Nicholas of Myra, an early Christian Bishop. Nicholas is reported to have heard about three destitute young women who lacked dowries and could not marry. Knowing their father would not accept charity, Nicholas went to their house at night and threw a bag of gold coin through their window. By complete accident, the bag landed in stockings that had been left by the fire to dry. He returned for two more nights, gifting two more bags of gold, so that all three daughters could marry well.
Another version of this story has St. Nicholas gifting golden balls instead of bags of coin. Today, to honor this version of the legend, many families, like mine, find oranges or grapefruit in their stockings Christmas morning. This is significant since historically citrus fruit was considered a special treat. In fact, for centuries, the traditional treats in the Stockings or Shoes were nuts, fruit and candied treats.
Some scholars argue that Santa Claus also has roots in the Norse tradition. In the Norselands, children would put their boots near the fireplace filled with straw, carrots, and sugar as treats for Odin’s flying, eight-legged horse Sleipnir. Odin, as a thanks for the children’s kindness, would reward the children with gifts or sweets. When the Christianization came to the Norse, Odin was replaced with St. Nicholas/Santa Claus as the season’s gift giver.
Christmas Stockings Today
Initially, the tradition was to put the stockings or shoes out for St. Nicholas Day. However, by the early 19th century, when Moore wrote The Night Before Christmas, they had become associated with Christmas instead, and St. Nicholas became more popularly known as Santa Claus. Originally, children hung every day socks, the ones they wore, up for St. Nicholas. By the early 20th century, special stockings, often decorated with holiday designs, were used instead. Today, many Christmas stockings are handcrafted by family members and personalized so that Santa would know which child belonged to the stocking.
This year, as you hang your stockings this Christmas, we at The Researcher’s Gateway wish you, as Moore’s Santa did, a “HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT.”