“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.”
– A Visit From Saint Nicholas (1823)
Are you ready for Christmas? Is your tree up, twinkling with anticipation? Are your presents bought and wrapped (If not, never fear! We have some perfect pairings for you)? Perhaps you’ve ordered the turkey, sent your Christmas cards, and are pondering which wine to serve on the big day?
There are lots of traditions at Christmas. But one of the most iconic is hanging Christmas stockings on fireplaces, bedposts or doorknobs on Christmas Eve. Have you ever wondered why?
The practice was first mentioned in 1823, in a Clement Clarke Moore poem, A Visit from Saint Nicholas (also known by its first line, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas). Until then, Santa Claus had always been depicted as a disciplinarian, not the jolly, twinkly eyed man with eight reindeer, we know and love today. Clarke Moore described a jovial figure that could magically visit childrens’ homes via the chimney, leaving presents in the stockings he found hanging there.
It’s thought the legend of the original Christmas sock dates back centuries. The story goes that a widowed father was struggling to make ends meet, and was concerned it would affect his three daughters’ marriage prospects. St Nicholas (the Christian bishop Santa Claus is based on) heard about their plight and one night, he emptied gold coins from the chimney, which fell into the girls’ stockings that were drying by the fire. Upon waking in the morning, the family was overjoyed by this Christmas miracle. Perhaps that’s why chocolate coins are a firm favourite in today’s stockings.
Before it was a Christmas tradition, children would hang their own stockings on St Nick’s patron saint day of 19 December, in the hope he would leave them a gift. Naughty children were warned they may find lumps of coal, rather than presents, waiting for them there. That’s inspired by Italian folklore, where Befana (an elderly woman said to be searching the country for the three wise men and baby Jesus) would leave sweets for the good children and coal for the rest on Epiphany Eve (5 January). She’s also sometimes known as the Christmas Witch.
Of course today there are a myriad of different stockings available, in all colours and sizes. Before they were available to buy, children would simply hang their own socks (or Dad’s – the bigger, the better, after all) over the mantel and hope Santa would fill them by morning. It was also common to make your own Christmas stockings at home, which would often be personalised so Father Christmas knew which presents to leave where.
Today, as well as chocolate coins, we fill stockings with treats such as nuts, a satsuma or orange, small toys, travel sized cosmetics or toiletries, and other gifts. Don’t forget to add a pair of funky ChattyFeet socks or something from outside the sock drawer this year – they’re all perfect stocking fillers and guaranteed to put a smile on everyone’s faces.