The stockings were hung by the chimney with care…” is a well-known line from Clement Moore’s famous Christmas poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” But why do we hang stockings on Christmas Eve? Christmas stocking history can be traced back to very early times, and is also associated with legends about Saint Nicholas.
Although there aren’t written records that specifically detail the origins of this holiday tradition, some legends provide insight into the beginnings.
One legend about stockings is associated with Saint Nicholas, the fourth century bishop who helped create the character we now know as Santa Claus. According to this legend, a nobleman whose wife had died couldn’t afford to marry off his three daughters. Saint Nicholas saw the girls’ stockings hanging by the fireplace on Christmas and threw gold coins down the chimney to fill the stockings.
Some people believe this story about Saint Nicholas is the reason children started hanging their stockings by the fireplace, hoping that they might also receive presents from the generous gift giver.
Many cultures around the world now have traditions about leaving out containers to be filled at Christmas, but they’re not always stockings. In some countries such as Italy and France, kids leave shoes instead of stockings. And stockings no longer need to be hung by the fireplace (particularly since many modern homes don’t have them). Now many families use Christmas stocking holders instead.
Even though the exact origins of Christmas stocking history may always be uncertain, it’s clear that it’s a tradition that’s going to hang around for quite a bit longer.
– Revised from Squidoo: Why Do We Hang Christmas Stockings?