The Mystery of the Socks on the Mantel

hanging-stockings-06Every year, we pin our stockings to the mantle, in hopes of getting Santa to give us a few more little trinkets. But, have you ever thought of where this tradition comes from? The most iconic use of textiles, during the holidays, consists of having a jolly fat man put oranges and candy in your sock. Does that sound normal? I wanted to figure out where this tradition came from, and was quite surprised to find out that no one really knows. Apparently, the most common origin stories of the fireplace stocking are more based on myth than fact. We know, thanks to the iconic poem Twas the Night Before Christmas, that “hanging stockings by the chimney with care” dates back at least to the poem’s 1823 publication.

But, the story of how footwear came to be hung by the fire is a muddled one.  The most often quoted legend says that the original Saint Nicholas, who traveled around, bringing gifts and cheer to those in need, came upon a small village one year, and heard of a family in need.  An impoverished widower, devastated by the passing of his wife, could not afford to provide a dowry for his three daughters. St. Nick knew the man was too prideful to accept money, so he simply dropped some gold coins down the chimney, which landed in all of the girls’ stockings, hung by the fireplace to dry (or so the tale goes). Thus, the modern tradition was born, though present-day stockings are commonly stuffed with tiny gifts and candy, and not gold. However, the tradition of the orange in the stocking is also related to this tale, as it represents a lump of gold.

Like most American customs, the Christmas stocking probably came across the ocean with generations of Christian immigrants. Perhaps the tradition stems from Dutch immigrants, who put out clogs, full of straw and carrots, for Santa’s reindeer, in exchange for some small gifts.   Maybe it was, instead, from the Italian children, who had customarily put out their shoes for La Bufana, the good witch, in hope of treats.  And, in classic American tradition, all these legends and customs mixed together, and before long, the Christmas stocking became an essential part of how we celebrate Christmas, in America.

Best holiday wishes from the staff and volunteers at FACES, and may your new year be filled with fiber.