Thursday, August 16, 2012

Christmas Stockings

      A Christmas stocking is an empty sock or sock-shaped bag that children hang on Christmas Eve so that Santa Claus (or Father Christmas) can fill it with small toys, candy, fruit, coins or other small gifts when he arrives. These small items are often referred to as stocking stuffers or stocking fillers.
      During The Great Depression/WWI and WWII, the contents of the Christmas stocking were the only toys  children received at Christmas from Santa Claus in many American families. Both of my parents used to look forward to receiving citrus fruits and nuts in their Christmas stockings because these items were rarely eaten during the cold months where they grew up.
      Tradition in German and Dutch culture sometimes dictates that a child who behaves badly during the year will receive only a lump of coal. A lump of coal, however, is not always considered bad during the winter, holiday season. Coal is equated with warmth and salt with good fortune and bread symbolic for enough to eat for the coming year in England on New Years Day.
      The tradition of putting out a stocking for St. Nicholas began in the Orthodox Christian churches; the exact date for it's humble beginnings, historians are not sure of. St. Nicholas, who was a real person, a Catholic bishop, had quite a reputation for purchasing the freedom of indentured servants (slaves). In legendary stories written about St. Nicholas, his character is revealed through a series of charitable acts. 
      One of these charitable acts is demonstrated in a story about a poor man and his three beautiful daughters. Because none of his children had dowries (marriage settlements) and he feared they would need to be sold into indentured slavery to keep from starving as was the custom for many poor Roman citizens at that time. Saint Nicholas happened to be visiting the small village where these three sisters lived and overheard the villagers talking about their problem. The villagers warned him of their father's pride, saying he would not eccept Christian charity. So, St. Nicholas kept his donation secret by tossing gold coins for the girls down their chimney at night. 
      What about the stockings you say? Well, it was also the custom at that time and for many centuries afterwards, to wash one's stockings out in a basin and to hang these up to dry over night in front of a fireplace. Some of those gold coins tossed down the chimney at night apparently made their way into the three sister's stockings. With the telling of this particular story, in the Orthodox Church, the popular tradition of concealing gifts in stockings began.
      There are other variations to these stories told in churches about St. Nicholas. So much so that artists have painted symbolic gifts along side or in the hands or pockets of St. Nicholas throughout the history of his depiction in art. 
      The popular retelling of the charitable acts of St. Nicholas according to American television are a far cry from the original stories. St. Nicholas is now Santa who doesn't much resemble his former glory and certainly does not take upon himself the necessity of telling little children about Jesus. St. Nicholas was a very charitable bishop who loved Jesus so much that he gave his family's entire fortune in exchange for the freedom of others; he was a devoted abolitionist. The truth is almost always more inspiring than fiction.

 Make an heirloom stocking.

More Ways to Make Stockings:

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