Christmas stockings have been a tradition in my family for as long as I remember. As a little girl it was just as much fun going through my stocking as it was opening my gifts. And to my glee, I would find it stuffed with oranges, candy canes, Christmas candy, perhaps a little coloring book and crayons, mittens...basically anything small and cheap. But, as far as I can recall, there was never any chocolate. (Hmm, I wonder why!) And then, when I grew up, married, and had my two sons, it was my turn to find creative those little gifts to fill their stockings and bring smiles to their faces. And today, they they are now grown men, but they still get a stocking. Why, even my pets have a stocking under the tree, and although my little birdies have passed over the Rainbow Bridge, their stockings of goodies are placed in a tree in my backyard for the winter birds to help alleviate their struggles to survive.
Speaking of pets, take a lesson from someone who learned the hard way...if you have catnip in the stocking...DO NOT LEAVE UNATTENDED under the tree. I made that mistake one Christmas about 30 years ago. That was the year I decided I wanted one of those silver trees and I had that spotlight that was continuously moving and changing colors. Well, on Christmas Eve all was well. Presents were under the tree...as well as my 3 cats stockings. Never did I expect what I found the next morning. The tree was down; the presents were scattered and wrapping paper ripped. Bows were flung as far as the hallway...and catnip was everywhere. Need I say more???
The Christmas Stocking custom has been around for a long time. Legend has it that the tradition of hanging Christmas stockings by the fireplace began many, many years ago with a poor man and his three daughters. As the story goes, he was a very kindly nobleman, and his wife died of an illness that left him and his 3 daughters poor and in deep despair. The father became even more depressed when it came time for his daughter's to marry... for he was very poor and could not afford their dowries; therefore, they could not wed.
One Christmas Eve, after the daughters had washed out their clothing, they hung their stockings over the fireplace to dry. St. Nicholas, well aware of the poor father's despair, intervened and tossed gold coins down the chimney and into the stockings. The next morning when the daughters awoke, they were delighted to find that their stockings contained enough gold for them to get married. The nobleman was thus able to see his daughters marry, and he lived a long and happy life.
In France, children place their shoes by the fireplace...a tradition which dates back to the times when children wore wooden shoes. Italian children leave their shoes out on the night before the Epiphany, January 5, so that La Befana, the good witch can fill them. My husband, who lived in Puerto Rico for awhile, told me the story of how they, as small children would put greens and small flowers into boxes which they then would place under their beds to feed the camels of the Three Kings.
Up until lately, it was tradition to receive small items like fruit, nuts and candy in your stocking, but these have recently been replaced by more expensive gifts in many homes. I still prefer the old ways. There is an old poem that goes as follows and still works for us today.
"Something to eat,
Something to read,
Something to play with,
And something they need."