For some folk, it’s at the end of the bed for Santa to sneak in while the youngster sleeps. Others prefer to drape them over or around the fireplace, handy and ready for when the old guy slips down the chimney. Whichever is your family’s choice, have you ever wondered why this tradition is followed?
Well, nobody knows for sure, there is no single derivation for this great tradition. Also, in recent times, the stocking is now just one small part of the Christmas present experience, whereas maybe only a few generations ago, the stocking would be the sole place where many youngsters found Santa’s gifts.
One possible origin of the tradition comes from parts of northern Europe. There, ages ago, children would place their shoes, filled with carrots and straw, near the chimney so that Sleipner, the flying horse that carried the god Odin on his journeys, would never be hungry. Odin would then leave a reward of candy or other small gifts in these shoes as a thank you. Today, of course, we still encourage excited kids to leave carrots for the reindeer, and perhaps sherry and a mince pie for Santa himself.
In parts of Italy, it was also a tradition for grandmothers to place gifts in stockings. Another tale tells of St Nicholas throwing bags or balls of gold through a window to help a poor man provide a dowry for his three beautiful daughters. One or all of these landed in a stocking hanging by the fireplace.
It’s quite possible that the modern practice evolved from stories such as these merging in time into what is now quite a universal practice of stocking hanging. A wide variety of commercially produced Christmas stockings, ready for filling, are available; some families of course enjoy using craft skills to design their own, and these can even be handed down through the generations.
Thankfully, in spite of the strictures from exasperated parents that only good children, well behaved throughout the year, would receive a stockingful of gifts, the alternative of a piece of coal and nothing else being left in the stocking for badly behaved youngsters is rarely practised!