As a child in the early 1950’s, Christmas Eve was full of anticipation as my sister, brothers and I pinned the stockings to the back of the couch before pouring a glass of milk to set beside the homemade cookies we chose for Santa Claus. We chose the largest socks in the house – our father’s socks.
On Christmas morning, we always had to wait for everyone to be gathered around the tree before opening any presents, but we could empty the contents of our stocking as soon as we entered the living room. Usually each one held chocolate candies, candy canes, assorted unshelled nuts and at least one orange. There might also be a small wrapped gift, but not always.
During those years before social media and multiple television channels, the Christmas traditions in our home and those of our extended family were the only ones we knew. Book, magazine and newspaper photos and illustrations usually depicted “fancy” Christmas stockings hanging from fireplace mantels, so I often wondered if we were the only ones who hung our father’s socks as our Christmas stockings.
Searching for the history of Christmas stockings, one of the first stories I found was about an old man and his three daughters. The father worried about the future since he had no money for dowries for his daughters which meant he would not be able to arrange favorable marriages for them.
Saint Nicholas heard about the old man and his daughters. He decided to secretly help. The three daughters had washed their stockings then hung them above the fireplace to dry. While the family was asleep, Saint Nicholas went inside their home and placed one bag of gold in each of three stockings. The next morning, the family was overjoyed to find the gold and the daughters were finally able to be married.
After hearing this story, it is said children began to hang their stocking near their fireplace mantle in the hope Saint Nicholas would visit them and place gifts in their stockings. Oranges were sometimes placed in the stockings as a symbol of the bags of gold that St. Nicholas gave to the daughters of the old man.
Ah ha! The oranges in my childhood stockings were for a reason even if the story had been forgotten through the years.
Today the customized Christmas stockings are larger, and parents may include this year’s hottest branded merchandise and toys. But, carry on the tradition of also placing an orange (or tangerine or mandarin orange) in each stocking with nuts and candies then take time to tell the children the story of the old man and his three daughters. This is how traditions continue.