The History of the Christmas Stocking
Does dear old Santa Claus, when he shimmies down your narrow chimney (or wiggles through a cracked window, if you don’t have a chimney) sometime late on December 24th or quite early the following day, ever get stuck on his descent into your living room? The pomp and circumstance around his gift-giving surely brought stressful moments to his delivery service, and as the deadline approached, did Santa ever think he might not make it to the tree?
Lucky for him, his early days of gift delivery were not marked by the modern and multifaceted laundry dryer, in which stockings could have tumbled while their owners slept. The foot-shaped decoration became popular after, legend says, Saint Nicholas “sent bags of gold down a chimney at the home of a poor man who had no dowry for his unmarried daughters. The gold fell into stockings left hanging to dry” (“Stockings,” The Telegraph). Whether Santa intended for the gold’s careful placement or the flying coins were a heat-of-the-moment, the tale spawned a decorative tradition.
Stockings, though usually similar in shape, come equipped with varying degrees of decoration. The stocking can be store bought, bright red, and soft to the touch; they can also be hand woven, depicting an image of Santa flying away on his sleigh, with the owner’s name embroidered across the front. When Santa does make his deadline, and you’ve been good this year, goodies rise to the brim of the stocking. But should you participate in any wrongdoing, coal is all you will find — a tradition itself presented as both a jovial warning to little children whose parents wanted to keep them in check and an opportunity for cheeky gift-givers to amuse their friends or family (Linthicum, “Why Coal Symbolizes Naughtiness”).
Stockings even became so popular they outran the Christmas tree. The New York Times reported in 1883 that “There is a very evident decrease in the demand for [Christmas trees], and this is unquestionably due to the revival of the Christmas stocking” (“The Christmas Stocking”). The stocking was always something affixed to Christmas; at one point “Christmas without stockings seemed inappropriately and insufficiently celebrated” (“The Christmas Stocking”). Some would say this is still the case now, whether the stockings are stuffed with coal or candy.