According to legend, the tradition of hanging Christmas stockings was started in the days of St. Nicholas. The good bishop, wishing to help a poor father by providing a dowry for his three daughters, tossed three bags of gold coins down the family’s chimney. The bags landed in the stockings the girls had hung by the fireplace to dry. The next morning, the girls found the gold and, thus, were able to marry. The tradition continues nearly 1667 years after the death of St. Nicholas.
When my older sister, Sharon, was born, my mother’s mother started a family tradition of hand knitting Christmas stockings for each of her grandchildren. My grandmother loved to knit, and I loved to watch her hands fly as she knit booties, blankets, scarves, hats, and, of course, Christmas stockings. She helped me to knit a pair of booties when I was seven. I was very proud of those pink booties made with variegated wool yarn. I wore them until my feet outgrew them. I didn’t knit anything else until I was about eleven. That summer my grandmother re-taught me to knit and I made a scarf. I soon learned to knit by the feel of the yarn and sometimes continued to knit in the dark after my parents had made me turn out the light.
By the time the eighth grandchild was born, I was a proficient knitter. My grandmother decided it was time to pass the family tradition down to me. She gave me her patterns and taught me how to change colors without leaving holes in the stocking. She helped me to stitch Jimmy’s name across the top. Two years later, I made my second stocking for my youngest sibling.
When I got married, I left my stocking at my parents to be hung each year on their mantle. Thirty years later, their mantle is crowded with the stockings of their nine children and many of their grandchildren. I knit a pair of stockings for my husband and me for our first Christmas. Later, we added stockings for our three sons. Over the years, I have hand knit dozens more stockings for siblings and their spouses, nieces and nephews, cousins, and assorted other relatives and friends.
A few years ago, one of my sisters commented that our mother was the only family member who did not have a knitted stocking. Mom had a felt stocking she had been hanging up since she married. Dad had started out with a matching felt stocking also. However, my grandmother knit him one and sent it to him in 1968—the year he was stationed in Viet Nam and could not be home for Christmas. I don’t know why she never made one for her daughter, and I don’t know why it took so many years for me to realize that I should make one for her. I rectified that immediately and made one for my mother-in-law the same year.
As our sons have married, we have added stockings for their wives to our mantle, and I have made a pair for each new couple for their own homes. This year, the tradition continues onto a new generation. I will knit a stocking for my first grandchild and proudly hang it from our mantle. What a delight it has been for me to knit stockings for four generations of our family over the past 36 years. It is a tradition I hope will continue for many generations through my nieces and, perhaps, one day through a granddaughter, if God so blessses.
December 23, 2010 The latest stocking is done, and my family’s stockings are hanging on the mantle. If you would like to see them, I’ve posted a picture on my post “All the Stockings were Hung by the Chimney with Care.”