Happy Rudolph Day! We’re at the half-way mark between last Christmas and next Christmas. What do you think of that? Is the year moving slowly or quickly for you? Either way, it’s a great day to remember the meaning behind Christmas and appreciate our Savior and his love for us. What comes to mind when you think of today’s symbol – the stocking? I found several different possibilities for you to consider; I particularly like the first one, it’s not one I’d considered before.
Stockings are often recycled year to year, and can remind us of continuity and connection, of aging across time and reliving simple pleasures with younger generations. The stockings recall the fullness of our lives and the importance of grounding down into our feet. They help us stand strong on the earth, warming the foundations of life as we draw strength from our roots.
According to some, the trend of hanging stockings was established in America by the Dutch. It is believed that in the 16th century, children residing in Holland used to keep clogs, filled with straw by the fireplace for the reindeer, along with a treat for Santa Claus. In return of this favor, Santa Claus used to leave gifts in the clogs. These clogs were later replaced with stockings.
According to others, the tradition of Christmas stockings originated in the generous deeds of a nobleman named Nicholas who was born in 280 A.D. in Asia Minor. Nicholas dedicated his life to following the principles of Jesus Christ, using his wealth to help impoverished and suffering people. He became the Bishop of Myra in his young years, and was immensely popular for his kind, generous heart. Living a lifetime of celibacy, Nicholas never married or had children, but he loved children and thus often regaled those who lived in his hometown. This practice provided him with the epithet “the gift-giver of Myra.” Interestingly, his nobility never prevailed his modesty, so he always gave his presents late at night in order to protect his identity. He didn’t like the children to know who their patron was, so they were often told to go and sleep or otherwise he wouldn’t visit them.
If you think about it, it’s a bit strange for someone to put goodies in your old sock. But like many Christmas traditions, the tradition of Christmas stockings comes from an old legend. A long time ago (so the story goes), a poor man had three daughters and couldn’t afford to give them a dowry (money or goods given to the groom’s family by the bride’s family). In those days, it was very hard for a woman to get married without a dowry. A Christian bishop named Nicholas heard about the problem and wanted to help, but the man refused to accept money. One night, Nicholas threw three balls made of pure gold in through the open window of the man’s house. Each one landed in a stocking hung by the fire to dry. The next morning, each daughter found a gold ball (often represented now by an orange) in her stocking. With this bounty, they were all able to get married. Stockings can remind us of the importance of service. The greatest example of service is Jesus Christ. He always “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). Take some time to think about the Savior’s selfless acts of service. How can you give Christlike service and show kindness to others?
There’s a short, simple family story to go with Christmas stockings, one that encompasses service, gifts and traditions. At age ten I was introduced to the magic behind Santa when my mother gave me $20 and asked me to help her by taking over the task to fill the Christmas stockings. At that point, I still actually believed in Santa Claus, so I remember being a bit disappointed; however, I also felt a great sense of responsibility and gratitude for being considered mature enough to help make the magic happen for my younger siblings. I still believe in Santa!
There’s also a great deal of symbolism that can be found in the contents of a typical Christmas stocking, but I think we’ll save that for another day. Merry Christmas!!