Christmas stocking
Waiting to be filled

Christmas stockings

Our family loves to have a stocking to open on Christmas morning and so each adult in the family traditionally makes up a stocking for another adult.

We take turns to open one of the many small individually-wrapped gifts, going round in circles until we are all surrounded by bits of wrapping paper.

This tradition was started by my grandparents, continued by my mother and I too do it for my children, although now they are in their twenties they have told me not to bother as they do not want more “stuff they do not need” – but, of course, I still do it.

The rest of my family (sisters, mother, niece) would not dream of giving up the tradition either; after all, Christmas is not the same without a stocking!

The 10 to 12 little gifts are small inexpensive useful things such as toiletries, beauty products, games, underwear, socks, gadgets and chocolates which invariably get eaten while the stocking is being opened.

In the end, stuffed in the toe of the stocking, are the traditional orange and nuts.

Did you know that the tradition of putting an orange and nuts in the stocking is because they were rare and considered a luxurious gift which could only be bought from travelling Spanish merchants?

It is also said that the orange represents the gold from the legend of Saint Nicholas, which tells the origin for the use of the stockings.

In the story, a poor widowed father of three girls was worried that their impoverished status would mean that his beautiful daughters would not get to marry.

Saint Nicholas, who was passing through town, overheard the villagers talking about the man’s predicament and so, knowing the family would not accept any charity, one night he went down the family’s chimney and, seeing the girls’ stockings drying on the fireplace, he filled them with gold coins, thus enabling the girls to marry with their dowries.

Stockings are, therefore, hung in the hope that they are filled with gifts.

Fun commercial stockings
Fun commercial stockings

Saint Nicholas is honoured in Catholic countries, but there is also a pagan legend whereby Germanic children would leave straw, carrots and their shoes for Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse of the God Odin, in the hope that Odin would also leave them gifts in return for their thoughtfulness.

Yule Man or long beard are other names for Odin and this tradition continues in Germany, Belgium and Holland, but nowadays it is associated more with Saint Nicholas as the gift bearer.

In 42 European and Eastern countries, Saint Nicholas is honoured and many children still put their shoes out on December 5, which is Saint Nicholas Eve.

The figure of Saint Nicholas is the interpretation or inspiration for Santa or Father Christmas or variations on the character such as Christmas Old Man, Grandfather Frost, Old Shepherd, a little angel-like person to name a few.

So, without fail, every Christmas Eve, I find myself staying up late wrapping lots of little stocking fillers that I bought over the year.

Admittedly, they are very roughly wrapped, but it does make it more fun to have to open them all. However, the stockings have caused me some dramas.

Before moving to Portugal, I spent the last Christmas at my in-law’s house, and I decided to make them a stocking each as a surprise. They had not had one before and so, long after everyone had gone to bed, I stood outside their bedroom door listening to see if they were asleep. My heart was beating so fast, I was sure it would wake them up.

I was scared of the dark and the mad situation I was in, about to sneak into their bedroom. What if they woke up and caught me? I had not really thought it through and the last thing I wanted was to get caught in there.

Thankfully, I managed to place the stockings next to their bed and sneak out again, but I never wanted to go through that stress again!

Another time, again I was creeping into my daughter’s bedroom when she was around six years old. She had a very high bunk bed, so I had to climb up the ladder and gently lay her stocking on her bed. I was wise enough to have duplicate stockings, so I could just swop it with the one she had left expectantly.

Suddenly, she opened her eyes in the dark and stared at me, giving me such a shock I almost fell back off the ladder. As I recovered, I told her I was checking she was asleep as Father Christmas had arrived!

Thankfully nowadays, I can just say ‘here is your stocking’ as they go to bed and then we get together in the morning to open them.

Children are taught not to tell lies and yet here I was every year telling a huge whopper about Father Christmas coming.

Along with the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny that left an egg on my children’s beds at night, it does make me wonder about these lies that become part of childhood.

We did it because it was fun to make believe with the children but, at the same time, when my children were involved in helping me for so many years provide shoeboxes full of gifts for children from a local children’s home, it brought home to our family how fortunate we were and that perhaps all the Father Christmas hype was so unfair on children from poorer households or from children’s homes.

When I questioned this fact with the children’s home manager, she said that the children were told the truth and that they accepted the fact, although it was hard for all involved.

Over the years, we have used commercial stockings or lovely homemade ones, but there were times we used a normal sock, so it is useful to have men with size 45 feet in the family!

I love giving gifts at Christmas and it is the only time I enjoy shopping as I think of novel gifts for the family. And although as we get older and we need or want less “stuff”, it is still exciting to wake up on Christmas morning, to feel a heavy stocking waiting to be opened and to be reminded of the joys of childhood.

So, with 10 days left till Christmas, I am off to buy more stuff!

By Isobel Costa
|| features@algarveresident.com

Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.