It’s rewarding to hear how certain columns connect and resonate with readers. Many of you recently have been kind enough to mention that you look forward to our Monday mornings together. Some of you even admit to making this the first part of the paper you read on Mondays. If that’s true, then bless you. If it’s not true, then you need to pay more attention to what’s naughty or nice — especially at this time of the year.
I’ve talked about various holiday traditions in this space before, but I don’t believe we’ve ever discussed the Christmas stocking. I seem to remember possibly writing about the various other places people hang their stockings, if a fireplace is not available. But I’m not sure the stocking tradition, itself, was allowed to put its best foot forward.
My research on this subject, which essentially involves looking at the stockings hung on my mantle in the den, reveals a few questions that deserve answers.
The history surrounding the hanging of hosiery goes back centuries. As the story goes, a father of three girls was concerned the family was so poor his daughters would never marry. St. Nicholas heard the story, but knew the father was too proud to accept charity. So, St. Nick slithered down the chimney one night and left gold coins in laundered stockings that were drying by the fire. I’m not ready to discuss the physics of how that happened or why a certain kind and generous saint didn’t require a trip to the burn unit, but that’s the reason we hang stockings. Hey, it’s Christmas. We don’t question certain logistical matters this time of year.
Hung with care
Now that we’ve established the why, let’s examine the what. As in, what do we usually find in these stockings?
There was a time that it was customary to find an orange in the stocking toe. The explanation here is two-fold. Some believe this fruit represented the gold coins in the story told above. Others say fresh fruit was once difficult to find and having such an item in the stocking was considered a huge treat. As nice as a juicy orange might be, I am of the view that it seems to take up too much space and creates an unnecessarily heavy stocking.
The Christmas stocking business is its own cottage industry. These personalized and decorated foot-shaped bags bear little resemblance to the tube socks or thermal footwear that once might have served the purpose.
Some creative do-it-yourselfers make them by hand. Red and white felt seems to be the go-to fabric with names fashioned from glue and glitter. Which brings us to another question. Should mom and dad be listed as such, or with their proper names? Some families don’t have stockings for the parents, at all...just for the children. In case anybody ever asks, I’m not in favor of that approach. I don’t care if my stocking says Dad or Warren, but I do want a stocking. Sometimes, it’s good to get that on the record.
Left.. left.. left, right, left
And finally, to the really important matters of the hosiery hanging. Which way should stockings face? Left or right? Have you ever really given this much thought? From a space standpoint, more will fit if they’re facing the same direction. Getting them all to cooperate is sometimes challenging.
As for what are appropriate stocking stuffers, here’s a standard list: gum, mints, ChapStick, candy, toothbrush, beef jerky and gift cards. None of these take-up near as much space as a piece of fruit.
We started another tacky tradition a few years ago that’s become a staple. Every stocking contains a few lottery tickets.
With boxes and wrapping paper scattered across the room, at a certain point, the only sound that’s heard is the scratching. Yet another sound of the season reveals itself at the Peper household. Who knew such joy could be unleashed by winning two dollars.
So there you go. You now have a bit of hosiery history, some hints on what to put in them and an additional reason to stare at your stockings while wondering if the toe is pointed in the proper direction.