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Why Do We Hang Stockings at Christmas?

The story of the Christmas stocking is as old as the legend of St. Nicholas and is closely linked with the figure we now know as Santa Claus.

Nicholas of Myra lived in what is now Turkey in the third century. He became a Christian bishop and was known as a kind and charitable man dedicated to serving the poor. An early legend of St. Nicholas credits him with providing dowries for a poor family with three marriageable daughters. To keep his gift anonymous, he tossed small bags of gold down the chimney. The coins are said to have landed in the girls’ stockings hung by the fire to dry.

In keeping with the spirit of this legend, children In the Netherlands and Scandinavia leave out their shoes for St. Nicholas to fill with treats on the Feast of St. Nicholas, or St. Nicholas Day, December 6.

By the time Clement Clark Moore penned his poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” in 1823, the custom clearly had evolved from shoes to stockings, and the timing had moved from St. Nicholas Day to Christmas Eve.

Today’s elaborate Christmas stockings barely resemble the humble garments once hung by the fire. Brightly colored and decorated, it’s easy to find a Christmas stocking that will attract Santa’s attention and encourage him to fill it generously! 

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