Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Stockings of Christmas

Listen up, children and grandchildren. This includes, I think, anyone under, say 60.

Once upon a time, in the lifetime of some people still roaming the earth, there were Christmas stockings. But they weren't decorations. You put them up on Christmas Eve, just before bedtime. And no one saw them but the persons who put them up or their caretakers.

We children were told if we weren't good, we would get only hard lumps of black coal in our stockings. I, for one, knew what that was because we burned it in our fireplace. The fire was nice. It burned, though, to keep us warm. We didn't have furnaces, most of us. We had fireplaces and maybe a gas heater or two in the most frequented rooms. I knew what coal was, and I didn't want any, and in the childhood grapevine, we all had heard of some child who misbehaved so badly, especially in the weeks before Christmas, that they received only a lump of coal. Or maybe two. And the kids I knew, we all believed in Santa Claus. In my family, I was told that while Santa put presents under the tree for me, even my parents got goodies from Santa in their stockings. Not the good--er, big--stuff, but something from Santa.

So when I went to bed Christmas Eve, I hung up, not my stocking, but my sock, preferably the oldest, most stretched out one I could find in the drawer. And my father hung HIS black sock, fitting a size 12 foot, and also old and stretched. And Mother hung one of her nylon stockings, one with a run in it--do you know what a run is in hosiery, people much younger than I? Most practically, it's one that was also stretched out and tattered and ruined and due to be thrown out, but great for Christmas Eve.After all, the neighbors weren't going to see these. Only the people who hung them.

I remember sighing with envy when I saw Dad's much bigger sock, and sighing even more heavily when I saw Mother's stocking, which hung so low it had to be hung on the side of the mantle away from the fireplace so it wouldn't catch fire.

Christmas morning, no matter how tempting the array under the tree, first we had to take down our socks and open them. Mine always had a candy cane, I remember, and Christmas ribbon candy, some of which I liked and some of which I didn't, and a few things, maybe a tangerine as well. I loved tangerines. Maybe a package of No. 2 pencils with my name printed on them, and/or a yo-yo or some such. Jacks. Pickup Sticks. (yawn) Pleasant. I always checked, and my mom's looong stocking was never more than half full, with stupid stuff like an apple and an orange in it. Ha! Dad's usually had monogrammed handkerchiefs in it, which he always seemed pleased with. Well, Kleenex hadn't been invented yet, either.

Sometime during the 50's, Christmas stockings became ornaments for decorating, with our names on them. Someone made a killing churning these out for the new refurbishment of Christmas decorations, but no cigar or patent, I think, for the first designer/originator. With uniform sizes, it did away with some significant whining ("his foot's bigger. It's not fair!") And so Christmases became, more festive, more merry, more festooned, and for some merchants, more profitable.

In families with multiple children and a paucity of beds, stockings always were hung in twos or threes on the foot of the bed. And with the cheap felt, uniform red stockings with white fluffy tops, again, decorative and uniform for all children in the house, Christmas decorations invaded the bedrooms, not just the room with the tree.

American women across the country still sew or knit and design their own. I was one of those grateful for the storebought ones. I say American women. How chary of me. Some men across America are doing the same thing.

In my own sons' youth, stockings always had some kind of chocolate, and usually windup toys that included robots, and didn't necessarily come first. In fact, they often came in the interim after Beneath the Tree and before Christmas breakfast was served. My own stocking once had an opal ring in the toe, which made me cry emotionally with happy tears.

Christmas stockings have come a long way, baby.

6 comments:

Matt G said...

I remember you decorating our stockings with yours, dad's and my names, using Elmer's glue and glitter. My brother hadn't come along yet, and you had to truncate your name to fit.

liveiasmin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
night lightning woman said...

My second comment is prn and I haven't figured out yet how to delete. I am startled,saddened, and bemused that such a wholesome topic would attract sleaze. Please ignore the above until I can delete.

J.R.Shirley said...

There should be a button underneath the post you click to delete. It may look like a garbage can.

Despite the dissolution of my marriage, I've been giving stocking-loads to Jordy. I've given her two so far, and plan one more before I head out of town on the 24th. I'm doing this to combine one of my favorite traditions- the Christmas stocking- with her Hannukah traditions of multiple gifts over days. I gave her the large present (a digital camera) she's getting early, so she could document her holidays, and I wanted her to be able to open gifts several times.

I won't have a stocking this year, but that just gives me something to look forward to in years to come.

night lightning woman said...

what a relief. It's so simple. Just need to know what to do. Many thanks

night lightning woman said...

My last response doesn't make sense, but hope you get the idea. Actually GIVING a stocking can be the more fun, I think. What you are doing is pure human sweetness. Good for you. And with the inclement weather all over the country, drive carefully and be safe. Lots of warm thoughts and good will coming to you from a bunch of us in Texas.