You hang your stockings by the fireplace every Christmas season, hoping that Santa Claus will fill them with goodies on Christmas Eve night. But how and why did stockings become such an integral part of the holiday season?

Stockings have been part of the Christmas tradition for centuries, although no one is certain of the exact origins. Filled with fruit, candy, toys or small items of clothing, the stockings have come to represent one of the connections to the long history of Christmas in the western world.

The basis of the Christmas stocking story likely comes from a tale of a poor old man who had three beautiful daughters. The man was worried his daughters would not be able to marry due to their impoverished state, but he was too proud to ask for help. St. Nicholas was passing by when he heard the man’s tale of woe and, knowing he would refuse help, he sneaked into the house late at night and, seeing the socks hanging by the fire to dry, he filled them with gold coins.

The stocking story thus became a fixture in the wide world of Christmas legends.

 

“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in the hope that St. Nicholas soon would be there.” Illustration from Clement C. Moore’s famous poem “Night Before Christmas,” c. 1870. 

 

In the earliest days of the stocking tradition, children simply used their own socks as a receptacle for Santa’s gifts. This eventually changed, as the socks grew larger to hold more goodies. No child ever wanted to receive a piece of coal in his or her stocking as it was a sign from Santa that the child had not been good during the previous year.

Many cultures have made stockings a form of craft, using the opportunity to make art on the long and wide piece of fabric that’s hung in such a prominent place on the mantle. The variations are as numerous as there are the number of stories in the Christmas tradition, from commercially oriented stockings to personalized stockings with each child’s name embroidered along the top to elaborate weaving and buttons attached to the fabric.

Of course there are the attempts to create the world’s largest Christmas stocking. In London in 2007, the Children’s Society of the U.K. created a 106-foot-long stocking that held the title for years. That stocking was surpassed in 2011 in Italy with a 168-foot-long stocking made by a volunteer services organization.

 

Sheet music for a 19th century Christmas song, “Little Stockings by the Fire,” published by Goullaud, in Boston, 1878. (American Antiquarian Society / Wikimedia Commons)

 

Where you live and your ethnic background plays a role, too, in what you may receive in your Christmas stocking. In the Irish tradition, a satsuma or another type of unusual citrus fruit is almost always one of the items included, sometimes with decorations attached to the fruit itself. (This likely calls back to a variation of the stocking origin story in which St. Nicolas leaves three gold balls in the stockings instead of coins. Today, these are represented by oranges and their variants.)

Chocolate coins are also a favorite part of an Irish Christmas stocking, best eaten immediately instead of saved for later.

In America, candy of all types is a near-certain for any Christmas stocking, along with the requisite pair of socks and often some funny plastic toys or novelties.

You can find all sorts of fun Irish-related Christmas stocking stuffers at ShamrockGift.com. Refrigerator magnets or magnetic bottle openers with the Guinness logo or the famous Guinness toucan would be a hilarious add-on for any Irish family member’s stocking. A stuffed toy or pencil set with the adorable Paddy Bear would also give cheer to any Christmas stocking.

And don’t forget about the socks! You can get Guinness-embroidered socks for men, in a performance rugby style, of course, or black, knee-length socks for women with a Guinness harp, for all of your loved ones. Now that’s an Irish Christmas stocking!

 

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Do you have your own stocking traditions? Let us know in the comments! And visit ShamrockGift.com’s specials for more gifts under $10 for some budget stocking stuffer inspiration.

 

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