As the Christmas season approaches (O.K. we know it is not quite December but I was a boy scout so I am always prepared) it is time to start planning our festivities.
When I think back on all my childhood Christmases, the thing I found the most exciting was getting my Christmas stocking. I was fascinated by how my empty stocking would be miraculously filled by the time I woke up and of course, I spent many Christmas Eves waiting up to catch a glimpse of Santa but to no avail. This got me thinking, why do we have Christmas stockings and when did the tradition start?
How long have we been using Christmas Stockings?
It is hard to pin down precisely when people started hanging Christmas stockings – either by the fire or at the end of their beds (like I do) – but we are able to say with certainty that the tradition must have been in full swing by 1823. We can assert this as, Clement Clarke Moore’s “A visit from St. Nicholas”, was published that year. We all probably know the poem better as “’Twas the night before Christmas”, anyway this poem says in its opening stanza “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there” which clearly shows that it was a well-known tradition at the time. I know this doesn’t give us an exact date for the origin of this tradition but it at least points to it having been established for at least two centuries.
What are the origins of Christmas Stockings?
So much for the when, let’s have a look at the much more interesting why. Clearly the tradition of hanging stockings has a lot to do with the story of St. Nicholas who was a real historic figure. St. Nicholas was a 4th century bishop in Myra, Turkey he was born to wealthy parents who died when he was young, leaving him a great fortune. Nicholas used this wealth to help those less fortunate than himself, this trait led to the popular origin of the stocking tradition. The story is that St. Nicholas heard about a poor merchant whose three daughters would not be able to marry as a result of the father’s poverty. In those days it was expected that the father of the bride would provide a dowry to the groom, being unable to do so would leave the girls with few options. In order to save the girls from lives of servitude or prostitution, St. Nicholas sneaked into their house at night and placed money into the girls’ stockings that were drying by the fire. The girls, upon waking, were over the moon as they could now get married. News of this spread and eventually it became a tradition across Europe from where it moved to the USA.
An alternate origin story is that the modern stocking comes from an ancient Norse tradition. It was commonly held that Odin led the Wild Hunt – a
large group of ghostly or other-worldly horse riders in the sky. Odin famously rode a grey horse called Sleipnir and children would leave carrots, straw, oats, sugar cubes etc. in their shoes outside the house for the horse to eat. In return for the kindness the children had shown to his horse, Odin would leave sweets and money in the children’s shoes.
Whatever the exact origin of this tradition, it is a lot of fun and one that children (and some adults) eagerly look forward to each year. Here at ScotlandShop.com, we offer Christmas stockings in our full range of tartans
, to help you deck the halls with Scottish heritage. Our Christmas Stockings are made in the Scottish Borders by Claire Morton who uses our 10 ounce 100% wool fabric to create her stockings. Claire has helped us put together our “how to make a Christmas stocking
” video. An interview with Claire can be read here
If you have a go at making your own Christmas Stocking and want to share your results or perhaps you have decorated your house using one of Claire's stockings, please feel free to share with us by emailing info@ScotlandShop.com, we'd love to see!