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How did the Tradition of Christmas Stockings Begin?

Niki Acker
Updated Feb 02, 2024
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In many countries around the world, including Germany, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States, children hang stockings from the mantelpiece on Christmas Eve to be filled with small gifts from Santa Claus overnight. The precise origins of the tradition of Christmas stockings are not known, but there are a number of clues and theories. The practice of hanging stockings at Christmas in the United States dates from the early 19th century at least, and may have its origins in the time of Saint Nicholas, the 4th century CE.

Christmas stockings are mentioned in the 1823 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas," which famously begins "'Twas the night before Christmas," so they were already a common tradition in America by this time. Many cultures have a similar tradition of putting their shoes by the fireplace or outside their doors in order to be filled with gifts, either on Christmas Eve or on the Eve of St. Nicholas Day on 6 December or the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January. Christmas stockings may have evolved from this tradition as wooden shoes became uncommon. Regular socks were probably used before specialized stockings became the norm.

According to legend, Christmas stockings honor a charitable gift of the historical Saint Nicholas, a 3rd and 4th century bishop in modern-day Turkey known for his anonymous gifts. The story tells of a poor widower with three daughters who had no chance of marriage since they could not afford a dowry. Saint Nicholas left gold coins in the girls' stockings as they hung over the chimney at night to dry. Saint Nicholas inherited significant wealth from his parents and is believed to have made many anonymous gifts to the poor throughout his career as a bishop. He was later transformed by legend into the gift-giving Santa Claus, and Christmas stockings may be an homage to the gift-giving of the real Saint Nicholas.

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Niki Acker
By Niki Acker , Writer
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "

Discussion Comments

By anon306540 — On Nov 30, 2012

The "tradition" vogueknit talked about, is in Germany. The old tradition is, that you have to put shoes outside on December 6, and wait until Nikolaus comes and brings you chocolate, mandarins, nuts and things like that. Nowadays there are little packages with sweeties and things like that.

But this has nothing to do with the German Christmas. Then comes the Christkindl or the Weihnachtsmann, depending on your religion.

By vogueknit17 — On Dec 16, 2010

@watson42, so do I. While I can make sweaters now, it will be awhile before I have the confidence or the time to embark on handmade Christmas stockings.

By watson42 — On Dec 15, 2010

Not only do some people sew their own stockings, some people hand knit them as well. My doctor during college was also an actor and capable singer who knitted; he (yes, he) knitted personalized stockings for his children and other family members. In general, he was one of those people I envied horribly for his many talents. I wish I could knit well enough to do something like that.

By vogueknit17 — On Dec 12, 2010

The tradition of St. Nicholas today has evolved greatly from the story of the three daughters and the stocking. In many countries, people also celebrate St. Nicholas day, on 6 December, in addition to Christmas; On St. Nicholas Day, children leave out all of their shoes so that "St. Nicholas" can leave treats, usually things like chocolates, oranges, and small toys.

Niki Acker

Niki Acker


"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of...
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