The history of Christmas stockings is based in myth and legend. Exactly where the idea came from is debatable, but cultures around the world include the stocking in their holiday traditions.
Legendary Stocking Tale
The origin of the Christmas stocking is a tale of a kindly Saint Nicholas. Folklore tells the story of a nobleman whose wife had died, leaving him penniless with three daughters. Left with no money for a dowry, the nobleman was worried about the dowry for his daughters to marry. On Christmas, Saint Nicholas came to their home and saw the girls' stockings hanging to dry above the fireplace. He then filled them with gold and the nobleman's daughters were able to marry.
Versions of this tale have been circulating for decades, each with their own twist on how the nobleman came to be poor or what Saint Nick was doing at their home that night. Regardless of the truth in the tale, it is one that has been told for years across the globe.
U.S. History of Christmas Stockings
All customs regarding the stocking traditions in the United States have come from European influences, as they were the first settlers. Modern American influences on the stocking tradition began making appearances throughout the 19th century.
American Stocking History
Clement Clark Moore wrote the poem The Night Before Christmas that was first published in 1823. The stocking is mentioned twice in his poem; once at the beginning, . . . the stockings were hung by the chimney with care . . . and again near the end, He spoke not a word but went straight to his work, and filled all the stockings . . ..
Famous illustrator Thomas Nast created the work Christmas 1863 that has three large panels featuring holiday celebrations of the time. The one titled "Morning" depicts children opening presents and retrieving stockings that are hung above the fireplace.
Writer George Webster published a book entitled Santa Claus and His Works in 1869. Illustrations were by Nast. Stockings were mentioned throughout the prose as a way for Santa to deliver presents to the good children.
Despite the apparent popularity and history of Christmas stockings in various cultures, an article entitled The Christmas Stocking. that appeared in an 1883 edition of The New York Times gives the impression that the stocking tradition was somewhat put off with the introduction of the Christmas tree.
In the article, it states that the stocking was experiencing a revival. Areas of the U.S. were experiencing problems with the size of the stocking used in their traditions, as many found it either too big or too small for gift giving. With the arrival of decorated stockings, the stocking became a Christmas decoration, while the invention of the "Smith Christmas Stocking" appears to have solved the gift giving dilemma previously discussed.
Today, the stocking is a part of many American homes, as both a decoration and a vehicle for presents. Personalized Christmas stockings are especially popular, as they clearly identify stocking owners for Santa. Stockings are not only hung above the mantel, but can be over doorways, on freestanding holders or in each child's room.
Common Practice All Over the World
Hanging a Christmas stocking is a common practice all over the world. Customs might vary, but one thing has remained constant throughout the history of the stocking-a child's delighted face at seeing the fantastic stuffers placed inside by Father Christmas.