Christmas History: The Origin of Christmas Stockings


Tom Simpkins - December 13, 2018 Content Marketing Specialist at Happy Beds, an avid reader of eclectic books, ambitious chef of French cuisine, adept at crafting tantalising cocktails, and more often than not, curled up in bed.

Christmas History: The Origin of Christmas Stockings

Christmas stockings have been a part of many family’s Christmases for decades, whether they’re large or small. Personally, my brother and I were given Christmas sacks, so we may have been a little bit spoiled, but no matter how grand or modest a Christmas stocking is, it’ll always be a beloved addition to the occasion.

How Does the Tradition Change Around the World?

Of course, this tradition is mostly celebrated in England and America; the rest of the world isn’t as familiar with Christmas stockings. Even if they do follow a similar form of custom, it can be wildly different, something that was brought to my attention when talking to one of my Hungarian colleagues.

She informed me that they substitute stockings by the fireplace on Christmas Eve for clean shoes on the windowsill on the 5th. Treats like chocolates and oranges take the place of small gifts, and the likes of onions and potatoes are given to bad children instead of coal. Father Christmas still delivers these, being known as Sinterklaas, but it’s Christmas Eve that’s the most bemusing. My source stated that in place of Santa bequeathing gifts on Christmas Day in Hungary it’s the baby Jesus.

Not Jesus as an adult, who would be odd enough, but the baby Jesus. Fictional or not, at least Father Christmas can not only lift a sack full of presents but his head up too. So, Christmas is just generally bizarre throughout the rest of Europe, too.

13 (Source: Dave under CC BY-ND 2.0)

I don’t reference this to judge another country’s beliefs or traditions, but to showcase how different these traditions can be to the ones we know and love. We truly take it for granted how conventionally we think of the tales we grew up with yet, as my Hungarian colleague said, it’s only when compared to others that you start to see how bizarre they can be.

How does such a variant of a story or tradition come about and how does it become part of our Christmas traditions? After all, they share the same origin and inspiration; it’s simply how cultures use this story that helps craft new tracks for the narrative to follow. With that in mind, let’s have a look at how it all started.

The Origin of Christmas Stockings


Whether it’s fact or fiction, the origin of Christmas stockings often trace back to the days of Saint Nicholas of Myra. Known as the Bishop of Myra, Saint Nicholas was said to have lived between 270 and 343AD in the ancient Greek city of Myra, which is now Demre in Turkey.

Like most sainthood stories, the miracles of Saint Nicholas were difficult to believe as they ranged from the moderately farfetched to the preposterous. The tale of Christmas stockings, however, is one that is light-hearted and jovial. Since good ol’ Saint Nick inherited a lot of money before dedicating himself to the church, he was often flushed with cash, so he never really minded being a charitable soul.

One day, whilst strolling through town, Saint Nick heard the cries of a poor family, consisting of a father and his three daughters. As the father was too poor to pay any dowries, he feared he would never be able to find them husbands. The charitable Saint Nicholas heard their story and decided he would help.

Since he knew the father wouldn’t take charity, Saint Nick climbed up to the roof at night and dropped three gold balls down the chimney for each of the ladies. As fate would have it, this shower of coins didn’t simply fall into a fire, they dropped into the women’s stockings that just so happened to be drying at the time.

In the morning, the three daughters found the gift in their stockings, eventually helping them each to land delightful husbands. In the end, the father could rest easy knowing that his children would live happily ever after.

15 (Source: Smithsonian)

As Good as Gold

Others have suggested that the stocking tradition originates as a Christianisation of Norse mythology, like most Christmas traditions. As with most of Christianity’s customs, stockings were originally given as a tribute to the all-father, Odin, and took the form of a children’s boot, filled with the likes of straw and carrots. The fables say the gifts were for Sleipner, Odin’s flying horse, and that Odin would reward this act of kindness with candy.

This stocking theory isn’t as universally acknowledged as Saint Nicholas’ story though, as somewhere between the 4th century and the beginning of the 19th century families decided to take his story to heart and fashioned the character of Sinterklaas.

Helping to popularise stockings in the West, in 1823 Clement Clarke Moore wrote “A Visit from Saint Nicholas”, the famous poem that included the line “the stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.”

Saint Nicholas wouldn’t be bringing gold balls any more though, as families would instead give their children treats, which throughout the years eventually became gifts. It’s unclear where the whole ‘naughty or nice’ thing became part of the deal, yet it’s an example of some pretty ingenious parenting!

For most of the stocking’s history, though, it was treats that filled them. Most of the time it was the likes of oranges, as they can represent the gold balls from Saint Nicholas’ story. In fact, during The Great Depression of the 1930s, oranges and nuts were primarily used for children’s stockings, since times were so tough on a majority of family’s budgets. Even nowadays children may find an orange among the gifts, as these have always been a universally beloved treat.

Kids and Grown-ups Love It So


Gratefully for people of all ages, stockings aren’t exclusively for kids. As the image above shows, this kind of child-like wonder can help to make even the gloomiest of times a little brighter, with soldiers at Camp Lee hanging up their stocking during the Christmas of 1941.

There are plenty of couples who enjoy injecting a little glee into the season by still giving each other stockings full of small gifts. Sure, they may be much more appropriate for children, but I know I’d appreciate a stocking full of sweets!

How about you, though, are you treating your kids to a stocking full of treats this year or have you got different plans for Christmas? Let us know on Twitter, share it with us on Facebook and tag us on Instagram with your superb stockings!