Hanging a stocking by the fireplace on Christmas Eve is a tradition followed by many families around the world. It’s a scene we see in the movies, on Christmas cards and on gift bags, but why do we do this? Where did the tradition of Christmas stockings originate?
The Tale Behind Hanging a Stocking at Christmas
The story goes that there were 3 lovely girls in the village who had recently lost their mother. Their father was now an impoverished widower struggling to bring up his children alone. The father worried that his daughters would never marry without a dowry, and he could not afford to feed them for the rest of their lives. In olden times, a woman without a dowry could not wed and would always remain in the parents’ home. St Nicholas overheard the villagers talking about the poor family, and he wanted to help but he knew that the proud widower would not accept his charity.
When no one was looking, St Nicholas decided to throw 3 bags of gold coins into the open window (or down the chimney in some versions of the tale). One of these bags landed in a freshly laundered sock that was hanging above the fire to dry. When the girls discovered the gold, they were delighted, and of course they married and lived happily ever after. When the news spread, other young people began to hang their socks and stockings around the fireplace in the hope that they too would receive gifts of gold. It is thought that an orange or tangerine – a gift often found in Christmas stockings around the globe – symbolises the gold from this tale.
In France, children arrange their shoes in front of the fire. In some regions, they do this on the 5th December as the Christmas celebrations start on the 6th.
In Iceland, little ones leave their boots on the window ledge – but they have 13 different Santas so they get little gifts every day from the 12th December onwards.
Traditions have their own variations, but they have a familiar theme at the heart. It’s a time for giving and for family, friends and neighbours.
What do you hang at Christmas time – an old sock from the drawer, a stocking that has been personalised with your name or a family heirloom that has been passed down through the years?