Christmas Stockings has its origins in pagan mythology. The Germanic god, Odin had a horse called Sleipnir, which was white and eight legged. Children would leave in their boots, carrots and straw by the chimney for Sleipnir. And in return for their kindness, Odin would leave them gifts. The tradition has survived in Germany, Holland and Belgium but is now more associated with Saint Nicholas, particularly in the Netherlands. The tradition in Holland is for children to place their shoes out on the 5th December, Saint Nicholas Eve.
Saint Nicholas and the Christmas Stocking
The alternative story is based around Saint Nicholas. Although there are several variations on the story the general consensus is that Saint Nicholas heard the tale about three daughters of a poor man. The poor man was concerned that he had no money for his daughters to marry and worried what would happen to them upon his death. Knowing that the poor man would not accept charity, he decided to help but without the knowledge of the family. So at night he climbed down their chimney with three bags of gold. He looked for somewhere to leave them and noticed that they had left their stockings on the mantelpiece allowing them to dry. He placed a bag in each stocking. In the morning the daughters discovered the gold and were able to marry. As Saint Nicholas is a Christian legend, and now related to the birth of Jesus, in Britain, Australia and USA, stockings are hung out on Christmas Eve.
Which is true, legend or myth is impossible to believe but there are similarities between the two stories. In Western Europe the custom is for good children to receive gifts and for bad a lump of coal (Although originally the coal was a symbol that the family had arrived financially but this was lost on children). The story of Saint Nicholas is sometimes told with gold balls and not bags of gold, hence why it is a tradition to place a symbolic orange in the stocking.
Twas the Night Before…
Although the hanging up of the Christmas Stocking could easily be credited to Clement Moore and his book, Twas the night before Christmas. Other than the story of Saint Nicholas, this is the first mention of a stocking being hung by a chimney.
Today the Christmas Stocking is usually filled with small gifts, confectionery, and some still place fruit and nuts in them. Traditionally the presents in the stocking are opened before breakfast.