The tradition of hanging a stocking from the fireplace (or, if you don´t have one, the bedpost) for Father Christmas/Santa to fill with gifts goes back a long time.
Many believe there was once a kind nobleman whose wife had died of an illness, leaving the man and his three daughters in despair. When the good Saint Nicholas of Myra heard of the family’s plight, he went to their home late one night and tossed three bags of gold down the chimney, knowing that the father would be too proud to accept money from him. As the story goes, a bag fell into each of the sisters’ stockings that were hanging by the fire to dry.
Word spread quickly of the kindhearted St. Nicholas. Soon the villagers, as well as children around the world, started hanging stockings by the fireplace.
And this is how the tradition of Christmas stockings is said to have started in the European countries. It is also believed that Santa Claus is actually an alteration of this same Saint Nicholas, Santa standing for Saint and Claus for Nicholas. Originally, children simply used one of their everyday socks, but with time special Christmas stockings were created for this purpose.
The idea of special Christmas stockings actually comes from Odin, however – a figure in Germanic mythology. In the Yule time the mythology says that Odin flew through the sky riding Sleipnir. As Christianization began taking hold in Scandinavia, Yule and Christmas began being celebrated together. Originally, children would take their boots and fill them with straw, sugar, or carrots, so Odin’s flying horse Sleipnir would have a treat to enjoy on Christmas Eve. In response, Odin would reward the children by replacing Sleipnir’s food with gifts and candy. Eventually, the children replaced the boots with special Christmas stockings. Later, the practice became associated with Santa Claus when Christianity came to Europe.
In the 12th Century, French nuns, inspired by the legend of St Nicholas – who gave gold to the poor – began leaving stockings full of fruit, including tangerines, and nuts at the houses of poor people. The toe of the stocking would contain an apple for good health and the heel a tangerine because they were very rare and expensive.(mirror.co.uk) From this arose the French custom for children to place their shoes in front of the fireplace in the hope that Father Christmas or Papa Noel will fill them with small gifts. Originally clogs were placed by the fire which is why it’s common to see chocolate clogs in many patisseries.
It is said that during the 16th century, children in Holland would leave their clogs by the hearth filled with carrots and straw for the reindeer (or donkey). A treat for Sinterklaas was left in the house near the fire, and in return he would leave the children treats. Later the clogs would become stockings and the saint would become known by all as Santa Claus.
Curiously, the stocking tradition does not seem to have become common in Britain until the 1870s. Before Victoria‘s reign started in 1837 nobody in Britain had heard of Santa Claus or Christmas Crackers. No Christmas cards were sent and most people did not have holidays from work. Many Christmas customs were transplanted from country to country in the nineteenth century. The Christmas stocking was from Belgium or France; while the “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” was the old English greeting shouted from window to street and from street back to window. Natives of Jamaica brought Christmas masks and mummers, while Santa Claus (St. Nicholas) came from Holland. The most exceptional tradition, the richly decorated and splendidly illuminated old-fashioned Christmas tree, was from Germany.
1918 stocking ad
It arrived in America much earlier, probably with the Dutch of New Amsterdam, whose children were accustomed to setting out their wooden shoes at Yuletide. As early as 1809, Washington Irving mentions hanging a stocking on the chimney. In 1822, the famous Night Before Christmas poem notes that “the stockings were hung by the chimney with care,” implying that it was a commonplace and widely practiced tradition even at that early date. By 1900 the modern concept of Santa and stockings by the fire begins to take shape and become an icon to a nation.
19th century girls stockings
At first, Christmas stockings in America were just that: everyday long woolen stockings that were worn as soon as all the goodies tumbled out.
By the end of the nineteenth century, especially after the publication in 1822 of C. Clements Moore’s poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” bright red felt stockings, some pre-filled, began to hit the markets around Christmastime. The number of reindeer that pull Santa´s sleigh in the poem, by the way, corresponds to that of the legs of Odin´s horse, Sleipnir.
Some believe the first mention of Christmas stockings being hung from a chimney was through pictures illustrated by Thomas Nast that accompanied the story written by George Webster about a visit from Santa Claus (1869).
Families all over the world continue to practice traditions associated with the Christmas stocking. In Puerto Rico, children put flowers and greens in small boxes and place them under their beds for the camels of the Three Kings. On the night before Epiphany, January 5th, Italian children leave their shoes out for La Befana, the good witch, and children in Hungary shine their shoes before putting them near the door or a windowsill. In Germany, children put out their shoes on the eve of St.Nicholas´ Day (December 6th).
1880s crazy quilt stocking
In some countries, the contents of the Christmas stocking are the only gifts that a child receives at Christmas from Santa Claus. Western Christmas tradition dictates that a child who behaves badly during the year will not get a gift in their Christmas stocking and will receive a piece of coal instead.
For our American Girls, this means:
– Kaya would not have celebrated Christmas (obviously).
– Felicity and Elizabeth would probably not yet have known the stocking tradition.
– Caroline would have used one of her regular stockings from her wardrobe.
– Josefina would put her shoes out on Three Kings´ Day (Jan 6), along with some food for the kings´ camels.
– Cecile and Marie-Grace would have put their stockings out. Cecile, being better off, might even have had a bought one.
– Kirsten would tradtionally leave out a dish of porridge for Jultomten (the Christmas Gnome who brings the presents), but would not put up a stocking, although she might have chosen to emulate this custom in the New World.
– Addy would put up one of her regular stockings.
– In the late Victorian time, home-made crazy quilted Christmas stockings were popular.
– Samantha, and Nellie after her adoption, would probably have a pre-fabricated or home-made stocking. Before being adopted, Nellie would have put up one of her regular stockings, though after losing their parents, she and her sisters would have been lucky to get anything at all.
Early 1900s postcard
– Rebecca, of course, would have celebrated Hanukkah. She would have received little presents (such as gelt). No stockings!
– Kit and Ruthie, as well as Molly and Emily, might have pre-fabricated or home-made stockings to put up but could also use their regular ones.
– By Julie´s and Ivy´s time, a pre-fabricated or home-made stocking was more common than using a regular one.
These days, some Christmas traditions have begun to melt into Hanukkah – there are Hanukkah bushes and Menorah trees, Hanukkah sweaters and Hanukkah stockings. So, your modern-day Jewish doll could have a stocking if you insist, though some people wince at the thought. In Lindsey´s time, this was not yet a common thing to do, however!
Early 1900s printed cloth stocking
Here´s a pattern for you to print out and make your own (source
, resized for AG by me) stockings for your girls!
I cut out two of the template from felt, sewed it together with blanket stitch and added the decoration (also cut out from felt and glued on). Easy and fun!
Read more at http://www.theholidayspot.com/christmas/legend_christmas_stocking.htm#f2K0kMFxhZTh37K7.99