While there are no written records of the origin of the Christmas stocking, there are popular legends that attempt to tell the history of this Christmas tradition. The most prominent legend is of Saint Nicholas. Here are the main elements of the story, though there are many variations.
- Long ago, there lived a poor man and his three beautiful daughters. He had no money to get his daughters married, and he was worried what would happen to them after his death.
- Saint Nicholas was passing through the village when he over heard the discussion of some villagers who were talking about the situation of the three girls. St. Nicholas wanted to help them, but he knew that the old man won’t accept charity. He decided to help in secret. He waited until it was night and crept into their house through the chimney.
- He had three bags of gold coins with him, one for each girl. As he was looking for a place to keep those three bags, he noticed stockings of the three girls that were hung over the mantelpiece for drying. He put one bag in each stocking and off he went. When the girls and their father woke up the next morning, they found the bags of gold coins and were of course, overjoyed. The girls were able to get married and live happily ever after.
This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.
The tradition began in many European countries. Originally, children simply used one of their everyday socks, but eventually special Christmas stockings were created for this purpose. Today, stores carry a tremendous variety of styles and sizes of Christmas stockings, and Christmas stockings are also a popular homemade craft.
Many families create their own Christmas stockings with each family member’s name applied to the stocking so that Santa will know which stocking belongs to which family member.