The Origin of Christmas Stockings

Christmas Stockings

Nothing really exemplifies Christmas more than oversized fluffy stockings hanging by the fireplace.  Families have been practicing this tradition for many years in preparation for the coming of Christmas day.

Nowadays, the Christmas stocking is used to hold many small gifts for both children and adults alike.  There are many myths and tales out there that try to explain the origin of the Christmas stocking.  But, which one is correct? 

Many people believe St. Nicholas’ tale of the poor nobleman is the origin of the stocking.  According to legend, a nobleman squandered all of his wealth and property after his wife died.  So poor was he that he had to move to a peasant’s cottage and live a miserable existence.  At that time, in order for a daughter to be married the parents had to provide a dowry to her future husband.  This nobleman didn’t even have enough money left for his daughters to marry.  St. Nicholas decided to help these people out, but anonymously. Perhaps he did not want the publicity, or maybe he did not want the man to feel obliged to him.  After riding to the peasant's home, he quickly dropped three pouches of gold coins down the chimney. They landed in the stockings the girls had hung up to dry by the fireplace.  The next morning, the girls were overjoyed with their find. It was more than enough money for them to get married and live happily ever after.

Another stocking legend has it that in Holland, children would leave their clogs by the fireplace filled with hay for Santa’s reindeer.  Santa appreciated the gift, so in return for this kindness Santa Claus left the children treats in place of the hay.  Later the clogs would become Christmas stockings.

Another possible creator of the Christmas stocking tradition comes from Germany in the 16th century. German children would hang their socks by the fireplace to dry after washing them.  On Christmas Eve, St. Nicholas would fill these stockings with five gifts designed to stimulate each of the five senses.  A typical stocking would be filled with:

  • Something to eat -- fruit, or candy
  • A toy or toys that make noise
  • An item that is visually pleasing like jewelry, cuff links, or a coloring book
  • An item with a good scent such as cologne or perfume
  • Something soft like modeling clay or a soft toy

Like all great legends, the story of the Christmas stocking has many versions.  But, unless you're one of those naughty children who only gets a lump of coal -- an Italian tradition -- the exact origin of the stocking is not as important as the joy of finding what is in that overstuffed boot-shaped sock on Christmas morning.