Did you know the tradition of hanging stocking by the fireplace wasn’t always associated directly with Christmas Eve/Christmas Day?
Historically, this is a holiday tradition inspired by celebrations of Saint Nicholas Day, December 6.
Saint Nicholas was a man who lived in the third century and was notable for having sold all his possessions in order to help the poor. He dedicated his entire life to serving the sick and the suffering.
So, yes, he is the inspiration for our beloved Santa Claus.
The story that inspires the tradition of hanging stockings by the fireplace begins with the reality that this was the best way to get a pair of stockings to dry overnight after a full day out in the snow and winter weather.
Never a good idea to go out again in wet stockings and folks in those days didn’t have handy dryers.
Keep in mind, too, stockings weren’t the flimsy nylons women wear under their dresses or the giant things we usually deck the halls with today. Instead, they were usually heavy wool and typically knitted, meaning it took a long time for them to dry.
Another tradition in those days was that girls who wanted to get married needed to have a dowry. A dowry was a sum of money or material goods that the girl’s family would give to her husband in exchange for him taking over the burden of providing for her.
The larger the dowry, the better her prospects were for a husband with wealth.
According to legend, Nicholas knew a poor family with three daughters and the father had no hope of raising a dowry for any of them. He worried that none of them would ever find a husband willing to take them without one, but, as the girls each came of age, they would wake up one morning to find a bag of gold tucked into her shoe by the fireplace.
Although he hadn’t been seen sneaking in during the night, the gifts were known to have come from Saint Nicholas and a new holiday tradition was born.
Even while he lived, Nicholas was honored as a Christian saint because of his acts of generosity and good-will. He died on December 6, which is why the day is celebrated in honor of him.
In remembrance of him, families began placing small treats in stockings to reward children who were kind-hearted and generous with others while children who were selfish or greedy would receive chunks of coal or twigs instead.
While the ‘Christmas stocking’ we’ve all come to associate with Christmas is not actually associated with Christmas at all, Saint Nicholas Day is still celebrated as a holiday in its own right in many parts of Europe.
If you’re looking for a fun way to extend the holiday celebrations, you can choose to honor the man who inspired it all, too. Just drop a small treat or warning in the stockings on the fireplace before you go to bed tonight and let the little one find it.
Rather than focusing on concepts of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, try focusing on the real reasons Saint Nicholas chose to reward people – generous and kind or greedy and selfish. If your child deserves a piece of coal, maybe you can work with them on learning to be more considerate of others’ needs.
Check out our Facebook pages for some ideas to encourage good citizenship this month.