The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
– “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” aka “The Night Before Christmas” (1823)
From Smithsonian Magazine, Emily Spivack tells us about the cultural origins of those Christmas stockings that old St. Nick fills with such care for us each year. Debate still endures about which of two New Yorkers first wrote the poem, but the origin story is usually pretty faithful to this version:
St. Nicholas was wandering through the town where the man lived and heard villagers discussing that family’s plight. He wanted to help but knew the man would refuse any kind of charity directly. Instead, one night, he slid down the chimney of the family’s house and filled the girls’ recently laundered stockings, which happened to be drying by the fire, with gold coins. And then he disappeared.
The girls awoke in the morning, overjoyed upon discovering the bounty. Because of St. Nick’s generosity, the daughters were now eligible to wed and their father could rest easy that they wouldn’t fall into lonely despair.
Not only is spinsterhood averted, but I’m sure this meant three new family group sheets to be researched! Read more here on the Smithsonian’s history of hosiery over the fireplace.
There are four reasons why oranges are popular in Christmas stockings, according to The Kitchn.
The first seemed so obvious to me: oranges were a rare treat, especially in the north, in the days before produce could be shipped quickly./h3>
I thought I recalled Laura Ingalls being overjoyed out there on the pioneer prairie to get an orange in her Christmas stocking, but I misremembered. (It was sticks of peppermint from their nice neighbor.)<
The second reason goes back to St. Nick and his gold coins, with oranges being a thrifty yet symbolic substitute.
During the Great Depression, according to the third theory, oranges were still exotic and took the place of more expensive gifts. And the final theory is that the segments of oranges are easily shared and remind us to share what we have with others.
I think that last theory is my favorite.
Stockings and oranges at Christmas are like a horse and carriage, and love and marriage. Ask elders in your family what came in their Christmas stockings – it may trigger some great new family stories.
May all your stockings come full of treats this holiday. I look forward to returning to regular blogging in the new year, sharing my love for research with my fellow genealogist readers. In the meantime, warmest holiday greetings from Sassy Jane to you.
My Mom always put an orange and a penny in our stockings because that’s what she got from Santa during the depression. Of course, we had other goodies, too. I continued that tradition with my daughter, and she did it this Christmas with her baby (our grand daughter).
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