It’s December. Time to think about decorating the house, inside and out, for the holidays. One way to add an instant feel of festivity is to line the mantlepiece with stockings. But Christmas stockings aren’t mere decorations. First and foremost, they’re receptacles for holding gifts! That is, for children who have been nice rather than naughty.
A contemporary decorated hearth (Source: propertypal)
It is tradition among some, to hang stockings by the chimney on Christmas Eve to be filled by Santa Claus as he does his rounds delivering presents. The evolution of some of our Christmas traditions are a little murky and there are few written records to help.
One of the oldest reference to St. Nicolas goes as far back as the third century. The ancient town of Myra, located in what is now modern-day Turkey, is home to a shrine dedicated to Bishop Nicolas. Over several centuries, tales spread detailing the benevolence and generosity of Bishop Nicholas, and some content that this is where the idea of St. Nick as a gift-giver began.
Another story holds that the notion of St. Nicolas, a magical night visitor who gave gifts to children, originated with a group of nuns in the Middle Ages. Children were encouraged to leave their shoes out, for gifts. However, St. Nicolas would only leave treats and toys for children who had been good. For children who had been naughty throughout the year, he left sticks, horse manure, sawdust or lumps of coal. Shoes eventually gave way to socks, which gave way to Christmas stockings.
Yet another legend maintains that Saint Nicolas learned about a poor man who worried that he couldn’t afford to pay a dowry for his three daughters. Saint Nicolas decided to help the man, and he took three bags of gold with him down the chimney of the man’s home. Once inside, he found the girls’ stockings hanging on the mantelpiece after washing, and he added the gold bags to the stockings. As the story spread, children began hanging their own stockings in the hopes of receiving gold, or at least gifts on Christmas Eve.
Nevertheless, it is clear that by the 1800s the idea of St. Nick going down the chimney to fill stockings left out by children was an established part of the Christmas landscape. Stockings feature large in on of my favourite Christmas classics, the poem Twas the night before Christmas, written in 1823. In the poem, St. Nick is portrayed as driving his reindeer from house to house on Christmas Eve to deliver presents and stuff the stockings.
Source: CTG Publishing
For those of you who wish to try your luck with St Nick, we have a beautiful selection of stockings this year at Galerie CO.
Luxurious velvet stocking hand-printed by the UK’s Corita Rose (Galerie CO)
by nord’s wonderful oversized cotton stockings come wolf, moose and fawn motifs (Galerie CO)
Knitted lambswool stocking by Donna Wilson are available in red and green (Galerie CO)
You could also try and make your own stockings.
There are several resources on line that offer tutorials for how to make stockings using lots of natural or repurposed materials.
Elegant elf stockings made from repurposed burlap coffee sacks (Source: habitationBoheme)
Colourful and quirky home-made stockings hanging on a bannister (Source: house to home)
Whimsical elf Christmas stocking patterns available (Source: decorating your small space)
If you’re a little nostalgic, like me, and you love the 1823 poem, here it is again just in case you need a little inspiration to get to work on some unique and beautiful stockings to decorate your own home for the holidays.
‘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 tinny 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, on Donner 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 peddler, 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!”
Clement Moore (first published 23 December 1823)
What are your gift giving traditions?
How do you decorate for the holidays?