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11# What’s behind the holiday tradition of hanging socks on the fireplace?

3 min read

Of course, the history of Christmas stockings is based in myth and legend. Exactly where the custom came from is debatable, but cultures around the world include the stocking in their holiday traditions.

In yet another version of the story of Saint Nicholas, probably the man behind Santa Claus, lies the origin of the tradition of washing the stockings on the night before Christmas and hanging them up on the window sill or near the hearth, to receive gifts from Santa himself. It is said to happen 17 centuries ago in Turkey, where the Bishop of Myra, Nicholas was known all over for his benevolence and love for children, and he used to distribute gifts secretly to children on Christmas Eve.
As story goes, a recently widowed man and father of three girls was having a tough time making ends meet. Even though his daughters were beautiful, he worried that their impoverished status would make it impossible for them to marry, because they could not provide dowry that was a popular custom in those days. Overcome with pity, St. Nicholas wanted to help but knew the man would refuse any kind of charity directly. Thus, one night, he slid down the chimney of the family’s house and placed enough gold pieces to provide the dowry in the girls’ recently laundered stockings, which happened to be drying by the fire. The girls awoke in the morning, overjoyed upon discovering the bounty. Because of St. Nick’s generosity, the daughters were now eligible to wed and their father could rest easy that they wouldn’t fall into lonely despair. While far-fetched, this tale of unknown origin and date is the most widely referenced when it comes to the history behind the Christmas stocking. For some, the ritual has translated into hanging a sock (the bigger, the better, of course) pulled from Dad’s drawer.

Another version of the custom of hanging out stockings for Santa Claus are putting hay and carrots in their shoes by Dutch children for the horse of their Sinterklass who is their patron saint and brings them presents, while Swedish children wait for a kindly gnome called the Tomte instead of Santa on Christmas. This gnome is believed to live under the floorboards, but this is another story. In some parts of France, Mexico and Spain, children wait for the Three Kings to fill their shoes with presents. However, children of north French pray that Pere Fouettard or Father Spanker would not visit them as he is reputed to punish and spank children, if they are naughty and bad.
La Befana is another sort of Santa that visits the Italian children and gives them gifts on Epiphany, January 6, while Agios Vasilis, the Saint of Letters visit the Greek children living in plains but those living in the mountains are taken care of by the tiny elves who bring the desired gifts to the good children.
In any case, the tradition of giving gifts reminds us that Jesus himself was a gift to the world and the gifts that he received when he was born…

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