Stocking Traditions

By Sharon Naylor

September 25, 2013 4 min read

In many countries around the world, the tradition of hanging Christmas stockings for children to find stuffed with toys, candy and other treats is a part of families' holiday celebrations, and there are some fun and interesting variations of this tradition.

In some cultures, the legend that originated the stockings ritual is based upon finding gold nuggets or coins in stockings. Since gold nuggets cost a tidy sum, families replaced the gold with oranges that they felt resembled the color of gold and were far easier to obtain. Modern families still carry on the orange tradition, often replacing a large navel orange with a small Clementine or whichever orange is in season during the holidays.

In China, Christian families enact the stockings tradition, with children hanging muslin stockings in hopes that Dun Che Lao (a figure similar to St. Nicholas) will bring them presents.

In Germany and other Germanic and Scandinavian countries, children place boots filled with carrots and straw for the chief of the gods', Odin, horses to eat. Odin would then reward the children's kindness by filling their boots with gifts or candy. This unique twist on the stocking tradition we are familiar with has an element of giving and not just receiving.

In Hungary, children shine their shoes before placing them out by a door or on a windowsill for their gifts to be placed inside the next morning.

In France, shoes are placed by the fire for Papa Noel to fill with presents. In a fascinating and somewhat scary legend, Papa Noel is accompanied by a cohort whose name translates to "Father Spanker." He is said to give the bad children spankings.

In Italy, children leave their shoes out for the Good Witch La Befana to fill with treats on January 5, the night before epiphany.

In Puerto Rico, children place flowers and different types of greens in boxes and slide the boxes under their beds as gifts for the three kings' camels. The boxes may then be filled with treats for the children the next day.

In Brazil, children leave small shoes outside for Papa Noel to fill with treats and presents. However, according to some long-held traditions, the kids may not look for their gift-filled shoes until they have served their parents breakfast in bed.

In Spain, children leave shoes on a windowsill, again filled with straw, barley and other gifts for the horses of their version of St. Nicholas.

And in the United Kingdom, children leave their stockings by the fireplace. When that fire is roaring, the kids toss their Christmas gift wish list into the flames, with hopes that the smoke will bring their wishes magically to St. Nicholas, for their discovery the next day.

So across the globe, there are various versions of the "fill my footwear with treats" tradition -- whether it be shoes, boots or stockings. Some cultures embrace a "you have to give in order to receive" lesson with this tradition. Stockings in many cultures are the actual stockings, socks, shoes or boots the children wear. In others, families buy special, decorated stockings or shoes just for this festive tradition.

While the legend of "if you're bad, you will get coal" is considered to be too cruel for many families, enterprising retailers often sell bags of black jellybeans or other black candies. The bags are often marked with "coal" and used as a gag gift for a loved one -- usually an adult, so no tears are shed. As a way to share the positive lesson of some countries' kids leaving presents for the horses in their stockings, it's a nice idea to tell these stories to children well before the holidays so that your family may create a new giving tradition related to Christmas stockings. Perhaps your kids can leave gifts for the reindeer, for Santa, or even just printed wishes for the children of the world in their stockings before they find their own stockings filled with presents, candy and other treats.

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