The hanging of stockings by the fireplace is a familiar Christmas custom and it has been an essential part of the Christmas tradition for centuries. Children hang their stockings over the mantle on Christmas Eve, hoping that Santa Claus will fill them with small toys, candy, fruit, coins or other small gifts when he arrives.
There are many legends associated with the actual history of the Christmas stocking. One of those legends says that the tradition of Christmas stockings originates from the actions of a kind nobleman named Nicholas.
Legend says that when his parents died in an epidemic, Nicholas used what was left of the family fortune to help the poor. Eventually, Nicholas came to be known as Saint Nicholas – patron saint of children and sailors and an inspiration for Santa Claus.
There are many legends told of Saint Nicholas’ life and deeds. The most popular of them is about a nobleman whose wife had died, leaving him penniless with three daughters. When the daughters reached a marriageable age he was unable to afford dowries (money or property brought by a wife to her husband at marriage). Without a dowry, his daughters were unlikely to marry.
When Saint Nicholas heard about the nobleman and his daughters he decided to help them. He wanted to do this secretly so he tossed three bags of gold coins down the home’s chimney into the stockings that were hung to dry above the fireplace. There was enough gold for them to get married. This is how the custom of children hanging stockings began.
Another legend for the tradition of Christmas stockings comes from Holland. According to the legend children in Holland would leave their clogs by the hearth filled with straw for the reindeer, hoping that in return Santa Claus would leave the children treats. The wooden clogs were eventually replaced by stockings.
The stocking traditions in the United States can be traced back for at least 200 years. It was 1823 when Clement Clark Moore published the poem “The Night Before Christmas.” The stocking is mentioned in his poem: The stockings were hung by the chimney with care.
Thomas Nast the man who is considered to be the “Father of the American Cartoon” and the man who conceived and introduced our modern image of Santa Claus. He created the work “Christmas 1863,” that depicts children opening presents and unpacking stockings that are hung above the fireplace.
Today, Christmas stockings are available in a variety of colors, styles, shapes and sizes. Children all over the world continue the tradition of hanging Christmas stockings.