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Why we hang stockings for Christmas

Posted at 9:55 PM, Dec 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-15 22:55:17-05

It’s time to get your place ready for Christmas!

The wreath resting against the front door. There’s the tree — fake or real — standing tall, covered in lights and shiny ornaments. 

A green wintery garland hangs from the mantel of the fireplace, and just near it hangs ... hosiery. 

Stockings are a Christmas decoration staple. But why do we hang these garments this time of year? 

"It goes back to Saint Nicholas. He was the original Santa," said Christmas expert, James Cooper. 

The web developer’s site WhyChristmas answers questions including the back-story behind this silk-filled tradition — which by popular belief began with the legends of "old Saint Nick." 

"A family in his village had three daughters, and they were too poor to pay for their dowries to get married. So, being a generous guy that he was, Nicholas snuck along the lanes one evening and either dropped a bag of gold either down the chimney or through a window, and it fell into the stocking that was hanging out to dry. And so the next year he did it for the second daughter and third year that he did it for the third daughter. And the third year the father stayed up all night thinking something suspicious is going on here and caught him. And then the legend of Saint Nicholas spread," Cooper said. 

SEE MORE: Why Is Santa Claus Dressed In Red?

The tradition has taken on many shapes and sizes over the years: from high-knee socks to the boot-size stockings many hang in their homes today. 

"I think it was basically the bigger, the better. I'm over here in the U.K. We also have a tradition of pillowcases. I mean, if you really want to get out there I had to pillowcase growing or other than the stuck it and that's that's a very good receptacle," Cooper said. 

Some countries often include an orange or tangerine in the toe to symbolize Saint Nick’s original gold gift. Other cultures leave shoes by the fireplace or outside their doors to be filled with gifts. The longstanding legend of hanging stockings in the house was cemented in the 1800s. Clement Clarke Moore’s famed Christmas poem known today as "Twas the Night Before Christmas” noted the stockings "were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there." 

Today, Cooper says, the fireplace positioning has stuck because of the modern commercialization of Christmas. 

"You see it on TV ads and you see on Christmas shows is hanging a stocking in a bedroom. Doesn't look as nice as hanging it above a fireplace," Cooper said. 

No matter where the stocking hangs, we hope it ends up filled with memories this holiday season. 

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