Christmas Stockings: The Tradition

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house  
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;  
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,  
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;  
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;  
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,  
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,  
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,  
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,  
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.  
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow  
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,  
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,  
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,  
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.  
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,  
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!  
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!  
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!  
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"  
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;  
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,  
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.  
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof  
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,  
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.  
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,  
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;  
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.  
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!  
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!  
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow  
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,  
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;  
He had a broad face and a little round belly,  
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.  
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;  
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,  
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;  
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,  
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,  
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;  
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,  
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,  
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."
- See more at:
 "...He spoke not a word but went straight to work; 
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk;
and laying his finger aside of his nose; 
and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose..."

A bit of history...

The tradition of hanging a stocking by the chimney is one without a clearly defined past.  Folklore and fairy tales are credited as much as (if not more than) history.  

Much of the tradition seems to center around Saint Nicholas, a Turkish Bishop that lived in the fourth century and was known for his generosity and kindness.  The story goes that, on one of his trips through a small town, Nicholas learned of a widower in the town who had three daughters.  As the man had no money for the girls dowries, it seemed likely that they girls could not marry and would starve or be forced into a life of prostitution or slavery.  Wanting to help, but not wanting to hurt the man's pride, Nicholas (who was the son of very wealthy parents, and had a great deal of money at his disposal), stealthily placed a small bag of coins** in each of the girls stockings that were hung by the fire to dry.  The next morning, the girls and their father rejoiced in the miracle and at the saving grace.  Word spread of Nicholas' kindness (though he demurred, saying that the thanks belonged to God alone), and people began placing their socks and stockings by the fire in hopes of a miracle of their own (or, some say, in tribute to the kindly saint).

In the Germanic/Scandinavian tradition, the god Odin is actually credited with the present day stocking tradition.  Odin- god of war, poetry, wisdom and magic - rode a white horse (named Sleipnir) that was able to fly and had eight legs ("...8 tiny reindeer..." anyone?).  Children of this region would place their shoes out with straw, veggies and sugar near the window or hearth, as a treat for Odin's horse.  In gratitude, Odin would exchange the Sleipnir Snacks for gifts and candy.  (Many people believe this, eventually, is what led to the Cookies-for-Santa and Carrots-for-Rudolph tradition).

While German culture certainly has had a significant influence within America, it seems that the Turkish tradition may be the primary genesis for stockings in this country.  In the 19th century, a man by the name of Clement Clarke Moore penned what would become one of the most famous poems of our time - A Visit From Saint Nicholas, later known as The Night Before Christmas.  This fantastic literary picture of Christmas became so popular, that soon after MANY of the actions mentioned in the verses were copied in Victorian homes all across the nation.  Arguably the most notable?  "...The stockings were hung by the chimney with care; in hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there..." 

This Christmas, when you leave out veggies for those magical sleigh pulling reindeer and a platter of sweets for the big man himself; and when you hang your beautiful, brightly colored stockings on the hearth, the stairs, the bedpost or the wall - you're taking part in a tradition that has been happening (in one form or another) for hundreds of years, all across the world.  So take a quick moment to remember a humble old man who, whatever the truth was behind the folklore, now represents the kindness and generosity that makes this season magical.  

Or remember a Nordic god who enjoyed war and encouraging his freakish horse to eat out of strange kids shoes.  Whatever jingles your bells.  

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk, And laying his finger aside of his nose, And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose; - See more at:

**In some homes, it is traditional to place an orange, apple or gold chocolate coins in the bottom of a stocking to represent the gold from St Nick

Check out Stockings: Just Stuff It for great ideas on how to fill your Santa Socks!

References and Further Reading
Collins, Ace. Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.  
"Christmas Stockings." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. 2013. Web.
Webley, Kayla. "A Brief History of Christmas Traditions." Time. Time World,  22 December 2010.

You may also like

No comments:

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

Powered by Blogger.