Hanging Christmas stockings is a special event that is part of the holiday for many young people. History and traditions behind stockings make hanging them even more fun and special. The history of hanging stockings to celebrate Christmas Day is derived from two different generational myths.
The first myth involved a wealthy Bishop of Myra named St. Nicholas (i.e., ole St. Nick). He loved children and would regularly give them gifts.
But he would leave gifts for them late at night anonymously. In this way, children were told to go to sleep or St. Nicholas would not visit them.
The more popular St. Nicholas story was when he took pity on a widower raising three daughters. Nicholas wanted to help the man and the future of the daughters. He would secretly visit the man’s home at night. (A bit creepy but it was all for good reasons – a bit like stealthily delivering an elf!)
The daughters would often wash and hang their stockings over the fireplace. Nicholas would break into their home (smile) and place gold pieces into the stockings.
Did the father ever find out who enabled himself and his daughters to have a better future? Yes. The whole town knew who their benefactor really was.
The second myth takes place in Holland. Around Christmas time, a man named “Sinterklaas” (i.e., Santa Clause) and his assistant would travel all around the country. Sinterklaas would then ride a white horse or a mule visiting different homes and leaving gifts for the children.
For the horse or the mule, children would leave their wooden shoes by the fireplace filled with hay and carrots. The children would also leave a snack for Sinterklaas. When the kids would wake up in the morning, left in the wooden shoes would be candles, nuts, and small wooden toys.
In the United States, the tradition of hanging stockings over the fireplace came from the 1823 poem by Clement Clarke Moore – “A Visit from St. Nicholas” or “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, as it is more commonly known.
The stanza that mentions that “the stockings were hung by the chimney with care” quickly resonated with parents who read this story to their children annually. As such, the tradition of filling stockings with gifts at Christmas time was born.
Initially, Christmas stockings did not look like they do today, adorned or embellished. Children would simply hang long socks from the mantelpiece in hopes that it would be filled with fruits, nuts, small toys, or candles.
As time went on, American Christmas stockings became customized with names or images because mothers knitted their own stockings. During the early 1960s, red stockings were created. Today, American Christmas stockings gave way to retail produced stockings in various sizes, textures, and designs.
Today, children all over the world continue the tradition of hanging Christmas stockings. Traditional Christmas stocking celebrations indicate that the stockings are hung from the fireplace.
However, many homes do not have fireplaces, therefore stockings are hung on walls, stairs, and in any location within the home.
The Use Of Christmas Stockings Around The World
As you’ll see below, not every nation that celebrates Christmas uses Christmas stockings as part of their celebrations.
In fact, a lot of cultures use shoes! Let’s look at Christmas stocking traditions around the world and how this Christmas time tradition is celebrated:
- Ecuador: Children place a personal Christmas list inside their shoes near a doorway. Children awake to new shoes and assorted presents left by Papa Noel.
- France: Children place shoes by the fireplace with a treat in it for Pierre Noel’s donkey. The next morning they awake to shoes filled with candy, small toys, and/or money.
- Hong Kong/China: Not every Asian family celebrates Christmas. But for the families that do they participate in the hanging of muslin stockings in hopes that Dun Che Lao Ren (Old Man Christmas) will fill them with toys and other small gifts.
- Iceland: Children leave their shoes on the windowsill. Mythical elves called “Olasveiners” leave gifts. This takes place over 13 days where each day the elves leave assorted gifts.
- Kenya: children hang a recyclable bag for family members to bring a gift on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
- Puerto Rico: Children place grass in shoeboxes beneath their beds on the eve of January 6th which represents the night before Three Kings Day. The grass is for the camels being ridden by the three wise men. In the morning, kids find small toys in the shoeboxes.
- Romania: Children leave shoes near the front door for Mos Nicolae to place gifts inside.
- United Kingdom: children hang stockings from the fireplace to catch the coins that Father Christmas drops from the chimney. They also hang stockings from the bed post that will be filled with fruits, candy, and small gifts.
Today, Christmas stockings vary in size, shape, and style. Stockings are either purchased or handcrafted in a myriad of amazing designs. They are embroidered from various types of materials. Christmas stockings are hung for everyone in the family including the family pet.
Like all good Christmas traditions, Christmas stockings are fun and help to celebrate the season of giving!