CELEBRATE 2022 – Christmas was so confusing when I was a kid.
Take for example the poem “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” in which it says “the stockings were hung by the chimney with care.”
Nobody I knew had a chimney or a fireplace.
And hanging stockings the night before Christmas?
We didn’t do that at our house.
But I knew about those special stockings. Fat and wide, made of plush red or green fabric, they were decorated with sparkly gold stitchery that spelled out “Debbie” or “Johnny” or whatever your name might be. This wasn’t some kind of fancy footwear. These stockings just hung around and waited for Santa Claus to stuff them with goodies on Christmas Eve.
Our “stockings” went up nearly three weeks before Christmas, on Dec. 5, which was St. Nicholas Eve. And we didn’t “hang” them. We draped them over an upstairs railing.
Oh, and these were REAL socks.
For Dad, it was one of the black stretchy dress socks that he wore to church on Sundays; for Mom it would be a single silky nylon stocking, the kind that clipped to a girdle or garter belt.
Mine was a knee sock, and in an effort to be festive, I’d select something colorful, like an argyle. Because it was the 1960s, I could have put out an electric green fishnet stocking but I didn’t want St. Nick to have to fumble with all that mesh.
Little brother? Well, he would just dig out a white cotton crew sock. Sometimes it was unwashed, pulled out from under his bed. Ewww!
The treats we found in our hose weren’t too exciting, either.
Mom was a health nut. She had a Dannon yogurt maker and didn’t allow us to drink soda. Our socks were usually stuffed with packs of sugarless gum, mini boxes of raisins, a ballpoint pen and maybe a dollar bill. If you were really lucky, you got a roll of rainbow Lifesavers.
Why did we do this? I recently asked my 91-year-old mom and my brother what they remembered.
Question: Why did we hang socks on St. Nicholas Eve?
Mom: “I got that from my parents, who came from Poland. My sister and I hung our stockings over the fireplace. It was an artificial fireplace. I can still picture it in my head.”
Q: What kind of stockings?
Mom: “I can’t remember, but I know they were real socks. Maybe it was a knee sock. And there were no stockings on Christmas Eve.”
Q: What did St. Nick put in your stocking?
Mom: “If you were good you got candy. If you were bad you got a potato or coal.”
Q: What do you remember about St. Nicholas Eve?
Brother: “My sock was definitely a white crew sock with stripes on it. Like a gym sock.”
Q: And the treats?
Brother: “Oh yeah, I remember the sugarless gum, Carefree or Trident. Sometimes I got a box of Cracker Jack. That was my favorite. I seem to remember some change at the bottom of the sock, too.
Q: What do you think of this tradition?
Brother: “I don’t remember any other kids doing this. And it’s not a tradition I carried on with my kids. We did more of the traditional Christmas-morning stocking.”
Ho ho ho, so there you have it. A family mystery unraveled.
P.S. — If you try this at home, do hang your stockings with care, far from the fire in the fireplace. Polyester and other Franken-fabrics are not flame retardant.
The real St. Nick
Long before Santa Claus there was St. Nicholas, an early Christian bishop of Greek descent who lived during the fourth century in what is now Turkey.
The history is sketchy, but apparently he was a generous man who liked to surprise people with gifts. According to one story, he saved three girls from being forced into prostitution by dropping sacks of gold coins through the window of their house so they would each have a dowry and could be married. Another story tells of a miracle in which he calmed a stormy sea on a ship bound for the Holy Land, and for this reason, in Greece and Italy, he is revered by sailors and fishermen.
The American Santa Claus and the British Father Christmas were inspired by the legends of St. Nicholas, who the Dutch call “Sinterklaas.”
Today, in many European countries, children hang stockings or put out their boots or shoes on St. Nicholas Eve.
In the United States the tradition was continued by German, Polish, Belgian and Dutch immigrants until the Christmas Eve Santa Claus and his reindeer took over.