Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Stockings

"You'd better watch out.  If you're not a good girl, you'll find nothing but a lump of coal in your stocking." I'm sure most of us heard that one while we were going up, and it still amazes me, the lengths that our parents went to to ensure that we behaved.  I remember every year as a child that I would be so anxious to see if Santa really did believe I was naughty or nice, always fearful that maybe I had done something wrong...and it didn't help matters any that my grandparents were still heating their home by coal; hence, I was told that Santa  would stop there first and pick up a few lumps.  And, although I always considered myself a good girl, I still worried that one Christmas morning I would  wake up and instead of the usual candy, chocolate, and small toys,  I would  find coal in my stocking. 

I both loved and feared Santa, and as I look back on it, I think it took a lot of joy out of the holiday for me.  I was just a little girl with really no clear understanding yet of what adults considered good or bad.  If I spilled my milk, was that considered bad?  Or when I came in from playing outdoors and tracked some mud on the floor.  My parents had their faults, but I do realize that they were not trying to be mean about this.  They were only following a tradition that was so old no one really knows where it came from.  But, it was not one that I chose to pass along to my sons.  I didn't want them to live in fear around Christmas.  I wanted them to enjoy every aspect of the the lump of coal was left in the past... where I believe  it well belongs.

As with all Christmas traditions, there are many legends which account for the hanging of the Christmas stocking.  Some say it goes back to an old, old  legend about St. Nicholas.  According to the tale,   St. Nicholas was traveling through a small village one day when he heard of a poor widower with three daughters who had no money for a dowry. St. Nicholas decided to help the family out so, one night, he dropped a bag of cold down the chimney, and it just so happened that this is where the daughters always hung their stockings to dry.  So, when the daughters awoke the next morn, they found their stockings filled with gold and were pleased to find that they would be able to marry after all.  When the villagers heard their tale, they began hanging their stockings as well...hoping the same would happen to them.

While most in most traditions, a lump of coal in one's stocking is the result of bad behavior, for some, coal was a welcome gift.  At one time, most of England and Europe were  powered by coal, and most household furnaces were coal burning. The people would take hot coals and place them in pans under the bed in order to keep themselves warm at night.  Hence, coals was a valuable commodity. Hence, when you were a child from a poor family, you considered yourself lucky to get that coal that you could use to keep yourself warm on cold winter nights. 

From Italy comes another  legend.  According to tradition, good old St. Nicholas of Padua was known to throw long knitted purses, tied at both ends, into the open windows of those who were very poor.  These purses were made of yarn and not unlike a footless stocking. Eventually,  it became the people began hanging  these long empty receptacles out of their windows on the night before Christmas so that St. Nicholas could put a gift into them as he passed by. By and by, when coin became scarce, toys were put in for the children  and useful presents for grown people.   And, in the northern part of the country where it was actually quite cold at Christmas time, the purses were hung on the mantelpiece; it was believed that St. Nicholas would come down the chimney and fill them. When these purses went out of use, stockings were substituted and have been used ever since.

So, come Christmas,  I will once again fill our stockings.  Each of us has one, including my cat whose stocking usually is filled with treats, balls, and little furry mice.  Even my birds had one when they were still with us.  It's just one tradition that I will never let go of , and the stockings are usually filled with  something that will encourage the use each of the five senses--touch, smell, taste, see, and hearing...just as I had been taught. And hopefully one day, many generations from now, my descendants will arise on Christmas morn and, as they look into their stockings, remember the tradition that was passed on by their great great grandma, Mary.


  1. Lovely post!! I read somewhere that children used to hang stockings filled with straw on the front door to feed Santa's (Odin's) horse.

    I was always worried about coal too. It's a kind of strange tradition now that you think about it, but I guess most people are just so used to telling the same old story!

  2. My cousins were so bad and still got I never worried about getting coal. I figured if they got stuff, I was in the clear : )

  3. We are softees & the pets get something under the tree each year. Two of the cats have found theirs.
    The kids have fond memories of a cat opening their gifts for them

    Love Leanne

  4. What a great tradition you are passing on!



  5. anddddddddddddddddd that dreaded Boogey Man is going to get you...needs to go too.
    I never used it and as far as I know none of my kids used it on their kids.

    Our pets get gifts too. :0)
    With the last inch of flurries yesterday...It's beginning to look alot like Christmas here!
    Ahhhhhhhhhh, but Sunday it may look like WINTER when that storm hits. :0(

  6. I never shared the lump of coal that I can remember but I did tell them Santa was watching them and probably shouldn't have done that. Well, we live and learn eh?
    I love all the mythology you've shared here, as well as the glimpse of your family traditions...we hang stockings for our pets too! We have to remember the animals and especially in the winter months.

  7. thank you Mary for always posting such great information. I've missed reading your posts and have a lot of catching up to do. Maybe after all the hustle and bustle of the holiday I will get back to it. I feel very blessed knowing you and always look forward to reading your message. Our stockings are hung and ready to be filled. I like what you do with yours and think I may be making a run for a few more items now. Many Blessings and Light and Love to you and yours. Your Friend- Angie

  8. we didn't grow up with stockings or coal.. but Santa yes.. and the fear of being good.. I remember writing a letter to Santa with all my good points, trying to convince him that I was a good girl.
    [no wonder many of us have so many issues with loving the self & being kind to ourselves!!]
    thankyou for your lovely comment on my blog.. I have missed you too.. i wonder how much wisdom i have missed from you in my week's absence.. I will have to have a little read back xo love you Mary xo