Clement Moore immortalized the line, “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care…” with his famous Christmas poem, “The Night Before Christmas.” But how did the tradition of hanging stockings on Christmas Eve get started?
One possible reason for the Christmas stocking tradition may be related to Saint Nicholas, the real figure who inspired today’s legend of Santa Claus. There are no written records about the first stockings hung out for Saint Nicholas, but there are legends that can help explain how stockings became a part of our Christmas traditions.
According to one legend about St. Nicholas, a poor man was unable to provide a dowry for his three daughters to marry. The girls had hung their stockings by the fire to dry, so on Christmas Saint Nicholas surprised the family by filling the stockings with enough gold for the dowries. In some variations of the tale, St. Nick throws the gold coins down the chimney instead.
Some people believe this legend is the reason kids started hanging their stockings by the fireplace, hoping that they, too, might receive presents from Saint Nicholas.
Winter Yule Festival
There may be an even earlier origin, however. In the book, “Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years,” author Phyllis Siefker says Christmas stockings may be traced back to the the Norse God Odin and the winter Yule festival . During that ancient winter festival, kids placed boots filled with sugar, carrots or straw near the chimney for Odin’s flying horse. Odin, in turn, would leave gifts or candy for the kids. The author says this practice continued in countries like Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands after Christianity was introduced. Later the practice of leaving boots or stockings near the chimney became associated with St. Nick.
Many cultures now have traditions around hanging stockings at Christmas, but there are many variations on the practice. In some countries – like France and Italy – children put out shoes instead of stockings, and in Italy, the gifts are left on January 6, the last day of Christmas. And many families now use Christmas stocking holders since not all homes have fireplaces.
We may never know the exact origins of Christmas stockings, but it’s clear that hanging stockings on Christmas Eve is a tradition that is here to stay.
Revised with permission from HubPages: Christmas Stocking History