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.