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The Stockings Were Hung From the Chimney With Care

December 19, 2011

StockingsHere’s another Christmas tradition I started thinking about. Who came up with hanging socks on the mantle?

There’s very little real history about where the Christmas stocking came from so we have to rely on legend and myth and Wikipedia. I was able to come up with one story that seems like a good place to start.

I like this tale. I mean after all Christmas legends are the best kind.

The original story has evolved over time to spin the differences in culture and society, but the reality is this is good old fashioned story-telling.

Once there was a father with three beautiful daughters. Although the daughters were kind and strong, the father despaired of them ever making good marriages, because he didn’t have enough money to pay their dowries.

One day, St. Nicholas of Myra was passing through their village and heard the locals discussing the plight of these poor girls. St Nicholas knew the father would be too proud to accept an outright gift. So he waited till dark, snuck to the man’s house, and dropped three bags of gold coins down the chimney.

The daughters had spent the evening washing clothes, and had hung their stockings by the fireplace to dry. The gold coins dropped into the stockings, one bag for each daughter. In the morning, they awoke to find enough money to make them each a generous dowry, and all married well and happily.

As word of St. Nicholas’ generosity spread, others began to hang their stockings by the fireplace, hoping for a similar gift.

I can be a real sap for a good Christmas story.

So how did this tradition take hold for American children? Some folks credit the idea to Thomas Nast, who drew stockings on the mantelpiece in his 1886 illustrations for a George Webster story called “Santa Claus and His Works.” While Nast did create the popular modern image of Santa Claus as a white-bearded, red-suited, boot-wearing jolly man, he cannot be responsible for the stocking tradition.

We know that because Clement Clark Moore‘s famous poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was written a full 64 years earlier. His poem includes the following immortal lines:

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

It’s likely the Christmas stocking tradition came to America with generations of immigrants. American Christmas is a melting pot of international tradition. Catholics brought the legend of St. Nicholas. The Dutch would put out clogs full of straw for Santa’s reindeer. Italian children brought along the tradition of putting out their shoes for the good witch, La Bufana. And before you could bite into a candy cane the Christmas Stocking became an essential part of the American Christmas.

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2 Comments
  1. Star permalink
    December 19, 2011 1:05 pm

    Bite into a candy cane in the last line…I wish spell check would put in what you mean instead of what you typed LOL I have the same dang problem!
    Good job, I am loving this series by you.

  2. December 19, 2011 1:20 pm

    Thanks for the spell check! :-)

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