Most of us are familiar with the line from Clement Clarke Moore's classic holiday poem, "The Night Before Christmas": "The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there."
But did you know that the tradition was based on a story of the real Saint Nicholas, who lived in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) in the 3rd century? Hearing of one family's need for money and refusal to accept charity, Saint Nicholas threw bags of gold coins down their chimney. The bags landed in the kids' stockings hung up to dry by the fireplace. The tradition of hanging stockings in hopes of receiving gold or gifts has stuck, and now we have Christmas stockings created for this holiday purpose.
For Barb and Mark Tschacher, helping Santa to fill stockings for their six kids meant combining the traditional with the practical, making sure the gifts were small enough to fit in a stocking and were budget-friendly. School supplies such as pens, markers, crayons and coloring books were popular choices says Barb.
"For home, we put in new toothbrushes, toothpaste, Chapstick and maybe a new hair brush or slippers," she adds. "We included a special candy bar and little boxes of animal crackers. And we did something traditional, like putting in an apple or an orange, and sometimes a simple toy I remembered liking as a child." As her children grew, the gifts became even more practical.
Sometimes, it is difficult to think about what to buy teenagers, agrees blogger and mother, Melisha Kreppein. That's why Kreppein came up with a few suggestions: earbuds, texting gloves, movie tickets, gasoline and restaurant gift cards, fuzzy socks, nail polish and heavy-duty water bottles.
And if you're still lost for ideas, focus on the tradition rather than the material objects. Hanging Christmas stockings is a well-loved, so it doesn't really matter what's inside, says Michele Taylor. At Taylor's home, opening stockings is a prelude to the Christmas morning chaos that invariably happens in large families.
"We go to church on Christmas Eve, so Christmas morning is reserved for a big holiday breakfast and opening gifts," she says. "From a young age, our five children knew that my husband and I needed to get to the family room first to light the tree and start a fire in the fireplace. Usually the stuffed stockings were too full, so while they started out on the mantle, after they were filled, they were spread out on the floor -- always in order from oldest to youngest." The pets have always had stockings, too.
"Waiting was difficult, so after the annual Christmas morning photo, the kids checked out their stockings first, before grandparents arrived. Santa always filled stockings for my husband and I, too," Taylor says. "What was in the stockings changed over the years, but no matter what each stocking contained a candy cane -- and even if they had on occasion been naughty, nobody ever received coal. That just seemed too cruel!
"Now that we have close to 20 people on Christmas morning, filled stockings are reserved for those who still live at home," Taylor says. "And no matter how old my husband and I get, we still have stockings, too. That way he is sure to get that bottle of cologne, a puzzle book or new socks that he needs. And I get a cute pair of earrings or some new lipstick or nail polish color that I've been wanting to try."
Taylor says that although her grown children might not remember what they received in their stockings years ago, they do remember that seeing what was inside was an integral part of their Christmas mornings. And that tradition of opening stockings first is now the tradition shared with their families as well.