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The History of Christmas Traditions: Stockings by the Fireplace

Kristine has a B.A. in Journalism from Penn State University and an M.A. in Liberal Studies from the University of Michigan.

Stockings hang by a fireplace waiting for St. Nick's arrival

Stockings hang by a fireplace waiting for St. Nick's arrival

The History of Christmas Stocking

Stockings hanging in front of a fireplace are one of the most popular symbols of Christmas. This holiday tradition began with legends attributed to a famous saint who later became known as “Jolly Old St. Nick.”

The Nobleman and His Daughters

The custom of hanging Christmas stockings is based on legends that have been handed down for generations. According to the article “Why Do We Hang Stockings for Christmas” on Livescience.com, the tradition originated with a story about a nobleman who had three daughters.

The man, living in an area that is now modern-day Turkey, had lost his wife to a long illness. He was both heartbroken and financially ruined because of several bad investments. Because he could not provide a dowry for his daughters to marry, he feared what would become of them. Many dowerless women were forced into prostitution during this time.

According to the legend, St. Nicholas, who was then the Bishop of Myra, heard of the family’s plight. He secretly threw bags of gold down the family’s chimney to use for the girls’ dowries. Legend has it that the final bag fell into a stocking which was hanging on the fireplace mantle to dry, according to Livescience.com,

Sinterklaas and His Donkey

Another story is based on the Dutch custom of leaving shoes outside on December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas. According to the Good Housekeeping article “Why Do We Hang Christmas Stockings?” children would fill their shoes with hay for the saint's donkey. “Sinterklaas” would replace the hay with gold coins.

When the Dutch came to America, they brought this tradition with them. Sinterklaas eventually became “Santa Claus,” and the legends merged to become stockings hanging by the fireplace; according to the article, “The tradition of hanging Christmas stockings was introduced by St. Nicholas, the patron of children” on Thevintagenews.com.

Not Just for Fireplaces

Hanging stockings by the fireplace are one of the most popular Christmas customs. It is not the only option, however. In homes with no fireplace, stockings may be hung on doorknobs, bedposts, windowsills, or even hung on a wall, according to Thevintangenews.com.

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Read More From Holidappy

Children need not worry. Wherever they hang their stockings on Christmas Eve—or place their shoes outside the door—Santa is bound to find them.

A basic stocking can be made out of felt and decorated with a variety of craft materials

A basic stocking can be made out of felt and decorated with a variety of craft materials

DIY Stocking

Materials Needed

Directions

  1. Print the template and cut out the pieces. To assemble the stocking template, line up the dashed lines, overlapping the shaded tabs, and tape pieces together.
  2. If needed, press felt with a cool iron to remove any wrinkles. Then place the stocking pattern on the felt. Use the marker to trace two stocking shapes, then cut them out. Note: Make sure you cut inside the marker line so that you don’t leave any stray marks on the stocking pieces.
  3. Lay one stocking piece on your work surface. Fold the piece of ribbon in half and place it near the upper left corner of the stocking. The ends of the ribbon should extend past the left side of the stocking. The loop should extend above the top of the stocking. Place the other stocking piece on top and pin the pieces together.
  4. Leaving the top of the stocking open, sew the pieces together with your sewing machine, leaving a 0.25" seam allowance (an easy way to get a 0.25" seam allowance is to align the edge of the felt with the presser foot). Make sure to back tack at the beginning to reinforce the stitch, and then continue sewing.
  5. Sew around the stocking, removing pins as you go. When you reach the end, back tack once again to lock the thread in place. Note: When you sew over the ribbon, back tack over it and then sew forward again to reinforce it for hanging.
  6. Remove any remaining pins, then turn the stocking right side out. Press around the seam with a cool iron. Embellish your stocking with pompoms, ribbons, buttons, felt appliqués, glitter, fabric paint, or any other décor that you like.
Did you know that stockings had such a deep history?

Did you know that stockings had such a deep history?

Sources

Ibraheem, Hanna (2016, November 24). “Why Do We Hang Christmas Stockings?” Good Housekeeping UK. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/uk/christmas/a565304/why-do-we-hang-christmas-stockings/

Origjanska, Magda (2017, December 29). “The tradition of hanging Christmas stockings was introduced by St. Nicholas, the patron of children”. The Vintage News. https://www.thevintagenews.com/2017/12/29/christmas-stockings/

Remy, Melina (2010, December 23). “Why Do We Hang Stockings for Christmas?” Live Science. https://www.livescience.com/32906-hang-stockings-for-christmas.html

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Kristine Sorchilla Moore

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