Most cultures have some version of a Christmas stocking and there are many theories about the origin of Christmas stockings. History gives us no written records, so let’s look at some of the more interesting legends surrounding the history of the Christmas stocking.
One legend surrounding the origins of the Christmas stockings features Odin, the principle god of Norse mythology and his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. The legend says that each year, during the Yule season, Odin would lead a great hunt. It goes on to state that children would place their boots near the chimney and leave them filled with hay, sugar, carrots and other treats to satisfy the hungry horse after the day’s hunt. Odin would then replace the food that Sleipnir ate with small gifts or candy to thank the children for their kindness and generosity.
Another legend involves Saint Nicholas and the three daughters of an poverty-stricken nobleman. Though the man and his family had once been happy and prosperous, they had fallen on hard times. Bad business decisions and the wife’s illness and subsequent death had led to a decline in the families fortune. By the time the daughter reached the age to wed the family was living in a small cottage and the father was devastated to realize that his daughters would not be able to marry, due to the lack of dowries. Though the villagers were sympathetic to the man’s plight, they knew he was proud and would not accept charity, even to salvage his daughters’ futures.
As he was passing through the small town, Saint Nicholas happened to hear the villagers talking about the sad plight of the girls and their father. Being the generous saint that he was, he wanted to help. Waiting until nightfall, he peered into the family’s windows and saw the girls freshly washed stockings hanging by the fireplace to dry. After the family was asleep, he snuck into the house and removed three bags of gold coins from his pouch. He placed a bag of coins in each of the girls’ stockings and left.
When the girls and their father arose in the morning, they found the bags of coins and their joyous voices could be heard far and wide. It is said that the girls were all married and they, as well as their father, lived happily ever-after.
The re-telling of this story led children to begin hanging their stocking by the fireplace or leaving their shoes outside the door, hoping that they too might be the recipient of gifts from Saint Nicholas.
The hanging of Christmas stockings remains one of Christmas’ more popular traditions. While it is clear that though the Christmas stocking’s history will remain a mystery, hanging stockings on Christmas Eve is a custom is here to stay.
by Sherry Law