Christmas stockings

Why we do what we do

The perfect place to set the record straight about Christmas stockings is PlanetChristmas magazine. They’re so much more than decorative pieces in the home that people take for granted. Knowing where the Christmas stockings tradition comes from, what they should look like, where they need to be hung and what should be in them will make you quite the expert in Christmas trivia at the next holiday party.

Here’s some Christmas stocking history.

What's in that stocking?
What’s in that stocking?

There are many different theories about the history of Christmas. Most agree that the story of Saint Nicolas not only attributed to the name Santa Claus but also contributed to the story of stockings hanging by the fireplace. The story goes that three marriageable daughters of an impoverished nobleman hung their stockings on the fireplace to dry. Out of compassion for the girls, Saint Nicholas threw little bags of gold coins down the chimney, which happened to land in the stockings. Thus Saint Nicholas provided the girls with a dowry and they were eventually able to marry. Some think it was gold balls not coins. What really matters is St. Nicholas left them gifts that made a difference in their lives.

In some cultures the stocking is replaced by a shoe (this is generally the case for countries where Sinterklaas is still celebrated, like Belgium, Holland and France) or even a small box.

What does the stocking look like?

Traditional stockings were a red sock with a fluffy white cuff, some personalized with names. Today the stockings are miniature works of art, a real keepsake that is cherished and used until they are thread bare. Stockings are more than just socks; they are cowboy boots, ballerina shoes, high heeled shoes, lace up boots and many other types of foot apparel. Stockings are sewn, needle pointed, cross stitched, embroidered, appliquéd and embellished with every kind of button, bell, and fanciful lace imaginable.

Where are the Christmas stockings hung?

It is unclear where most of the United States citizens hung their stockings before in 1822, when Clement Clarke Moore wrote “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there”, and a good fifty years later an illustrator called Thomas Nast drew a couple of stockings on a mantelpiece that were ultimately published in a Harpers Weekly, January 1881.

It is now accepted that Christmas stockings are hung by the fireplace; but what happens if you don’t have a fireplace? It’s now quite fashionable for stockings to be hung on bed posts, chairs, doors, window sills and a new invention, the stocking tree. Just keep in mind those gold coins dropped down the fireplace by Saint Nicholas need a clear shot to the stockings.

What fills a Christmas stocking?

Christmas stocking with gingerbread man
Christmas stocking with gingerbread man

Although we all wish the stockings would be filled with those gold coins, alternative ideas for filling the stocking appear in nearly every catalog and web site containing Christmas related articles. Few know the tradition of what really should be in them.

An Old World tradition brought over from Germany says stockings should be filled with specific items that satisfy our five senses of taste, smell, sound, feel and sight.

Christmas Stockings and the sense of Taste: Think about the orange or apple in the toe of the stocking. In some cultures, the orange has become symbolic of the gold that was placed in the stockings of the three girls, and also signifies that a child has been good. Oranges have special meaning for those who live in the Canadian prairies. Their arrival at such a cold time of year brightens the holiday, and the juicy fruit finds its way into many children’s stockings. The orange was also written in A Family Christmas (The Reader’s Digest Association: 1984). Attributed to Roseanne Russell, the quotation reads, “The orange has its place you know, to fill each Christmas stocking toe.”

Christmas Stockings and the sense of Smell: Long ago the stocking included perfume but today can also mean scented candles.

Christmas Stockings and the sense of Sound: It started with a rattle or child’s toy that made noise and was soon replaced with unshelled nuts or coins. Coins could also come from the Saint Nicholas story.
Christmas Stockings and the sense of Feel: Tradition holds the stocking should include a silk scarf, cravat or embroidered handkerchief but today it has been replaced with a specialty Christmas t-shirt or rock star garment.

Christmas Stockings and the sense of Sight: The tradition says we expect to see something brightly colored, like gold coins or jewelry, at least in the old days whereas today brightly colored items include specialty candies, like the Roche, Dove, Godiva chocolates or the chocolate oranges. My mom would put the tins from hard candy and foil wrapped candies that were too expensive on most occasions into our stockings, therefore making them very special at Christmas.

Now you know what’s supposed to be in those Christmas stockings. What about yours? Join the discussion at the forums of Planet Christmas-Indoor Decorations ( Looking for more stocking ideas? has free stocking patterns.

This article was included in the December 2010 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.

By Teres Whitney

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