egend has it that the Christmas stocking tradition began when three impoverished girls hung up their wet socks on the mantle to dry. Saint Nicholas spotted them as he walked by their house that night and decided to surprise the girls by filling each stocking with gold, changing their lives forever.
Although my parents haven’t had a supply of gold for my brother and me each year, we do have a traditional gift that goes back as far as I can remember: while we have to wait to open the rest of our presents, there are stuffed animal friends peeking out of our stockings to enjoy in the meantime.
When we grew to be teenagers, we were afraid that our parents would think we’d outgrown the tradition, but they quickly reassured us that it would still hold strong every year! I hope to share this tradition with my own children someday.
There are many diverse gifts that grace Christmas stockings and shoes around the world. In Germany, they may be filled with decadent sweets such as chocolate, marzipan loaves, shortbread biscuits and honey. In Ecuador, children not only receive presents, but also a pair of new shoes meant to replace the ones they tucked their Christmas lists in. In Hungary, their boots will be filled with fruits, nuts, chocolate, and possibly a stick or switch for any unruly behavior they may have indulged in!
Stocking stuffers have also varied with time. In the Victorian Era, gifts ranged from peanut brittle and fudge to cloth peg dolls and paper windmills, all thoughtfully prepared long before the holiday came. Pocket money was spent on marbles, spinning tops or cheap wooden toys. During The Great Depression, when Christmas money was scarce, children would be delighted to find treats such as bananas and nuts in their socks. One of the greatest prizes was an orange, which — unaffordable for most of the year — were meant to symbolize Saint Nicholas’ bags of gold.
As the world continues to move toward greater advancements and new things, the value that we place on beloved traditions is a reassuring reminder that we can still receive a lot of joy from carrying pieces of our past with us. In the heart of the holiday season, I encourage you to reflect on the traditions you treasure.