As far as Christmas ornaments go, the Christmas stocking is the grand-daddy of all decorations. You can hang them on the fireplace, the front door, from the staircase, on the wall, and even on the Christmas presents underneath. Christmas stockings can be as small as a mouse or as large as a person. Some people use their Christmas stockings as ornaments on the tree and others use them to store small Christmas presents that Santa Claus has brought the children on Christmas Eve. But where did the Christmas stocking come from in the first place?
According to Dutch and German folklore, the Christmas stocking as an ornament began with the story of a nobleman with three daughters. At one time the nobleman had been very rich and happy until his wife suddenly died, leaving him lonely and depressed. As he mourned the death of his wife, the nobleman managed to spend all of his money on foolish endeavors as he tried to raise his daughters alone. As the daughters became old enough to marry, the nobleman realized that he had spent so much of his money that he no longer had enough for the dowries his daughters needed to be able to marry. As Christmas approached and the nobleman and his three daughters prayed for a miracle, they hung their stockings on the fireplace to dry after they had been washed.
That Christmas Eve, the kindly Saint Nicholas stopped by to see how the family was doing. Saint Nicholas knew the nobleman was a proud man and would never accept a handout, even in his despair. So, when Saint Nicholas saw the stockings hanging from the fireplace mantel he was struck with inspiration. Saint Nicholas filled three small bags with gold coins and threw them up and into the top of the fireplace. As if by magic, each bag of coins landed in each of the stockings that were hanging on the fireplace mantel. On Christmas morning, the daughters woke up and found that there was enough gold in each stocking for each of their dowries and would be able to marry. From that Christmas on, Saint Nicolas went from house to house throwing bags of gold coins into the chimneys of poor families and each time he did it the bags of coins would magically land in the stockings that hung from the fireplace mantel.
The tradition of hanging Christmas stockings like ornaments from the fireplace mantel is said to have come from this story. As Christmas traditions evolved, people began filling their Christmas stocking ornaments with small gifts of candies left by Santa Claus in exchange for a plate of Christmas cookies that the children may have left for Santa on Christmas Eve. Over time the story changed from simply throwing gifts into the chimney to Santa Claus actually being able to magically jump down into the chimney himself in order to leave presents under the tree and inside the Christmas stocking ornaments that hung from the mantel. This folkloric tale of the origins of the Christmas stocking as a Christmas ornament left by the fireplace for the specific purpose of being used to collect presents and candy treats most certainly originated from the Dutch practice of leaving their wooden clogs near the fire to dry. At Christmastime the children would place hay in the clogs for the reindeer to eat while Santa Claus was leaving them presents. When the children would get up on Christmas morning they would see that the hay was gone, proving that Santa and his reindeer had indeed been there the night before. As the tradition spread around the world, the clogs changed to everyday stockings and eventually became the fancy or beautifully decorated Christmas stocking ornaments we know today.
While most children today look forward to hanging their Christmas stocking ornaments and seeing what presents or treats Santa Claus may have left them on Christmas Eve, they are also taught the consequences of being naughty rather than nice. It has been a tradition in many cultures, including the United States, that if the children have been nice they will receive plenty of gifts and treats in their Christmas stocking ornaments, but if they have been naughty they will only receive one piece of coal instead of presents in their Christmas stocking ornaments. This tradition has been a great tool used by parents around the world to keep their children acting nice rather than naughty around Christmastime!
Today, Christmas stocking ornaments are available in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. Tiny Christmas stocking ornaments are often used to hold small items for exchange with coworkers, placed on presents as gift tags, or hung on the tree with the other beautiful Christmas and German ornaments that can be found. The standard sized Christmas stocking ornament, however, is usually around a foot long and looks more like a fabric boot than a sock or stocking. These are most commonly hung on or near the fireplace and there is usually one for each member of the family. Many people write the names of the different members of the household on each Christmas stocking ornament so that everyone knows which Christmas stocking ornament is meant for them. Some people even make Christmas stocking ornaments for their pets too! Many people do not have fireplaces however, so alternate locations for their Christmas stocking ornaments are found. Some people place their Christmas stocking ornaments on bedposts, doorknobs, staircases, or even lay them down underneath the Christmas tree.
Many people enjoy making their own Christmas stocking ornaments rather than buying them in the store. Because people like to personalize their own Christmas stocking ornaments by placing their names at the top so that Santa does not confuse them, many different styles of Christmas stocking ornaments exist today. There is really no official size, shape, or color of Christmas stocking ornament that is used on Christmas Eve, so your only limitations are your own creative ideas. Homemade Christmas stocking ornaments can be as simple as sewing two pieces of red felt together in the shape of a sock and trimmed with white fur or as elaborate as a beautifully knitted or crocheted Christmas stocking ornament of red, green, and gold. Yet others buy plain and inexpensive Christmas stocking ornaments and decorate them at home with glitter, beads, bells, flowers, or whatever else they choose. In the end, it does not matter what the Christmas stocking ornaments look like, just that they represent the giving spirit of the holiday season.