Christmas Stockings

Stocking Holders

Christmas Tree Skirts

The History of Christmas Stockings

There are two things many children in many locations around the world expect to happen on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. First, Santa Claus will pay their home a visit after they are safely tucked under their bedcovers. Second, the stockings hung along the fireplace mantel, wall or banister will be full of goodies. These two expectations are no surprise because stockings and Santa are tied together in the traditions of Christmas. But you might be surprised by some of the history behind them. Join us at Pottery Barn for a look into the intriguing past of stockings


While legends vary, and there are no confirmed records, Nicholas was said to be a wealthy man living in the third century A.D. who decided to use his vast resources for good. He overheard that a very honorable man could not afford to give his three daughters their necessary wedding dowries. Legend has it that Nicholas waited until each girl was old enough to marry. Under cover of night, he left gold pieces in each girlʼs stocking to cover her dowry. He displayed empathy for those with less and did not seek to take credit for his benevolent actions. He is said to have performed many similar acts of charity and selflessness.


References are made to both stockings and Santaʼs predecessor in the 1823 poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas. However, the tradition of hanging stockings out to collect gifts from a kindly saint is probably many years older than the early 19th-century classic poem. By the 10th century, Saint Nicholas was afforded his own special feast day throughout Europe, Africa and beyond to forever memorialize his kindness and charity. There is no doubt some of the people celebrating St. Nicholasʼs feast day hung stockings to symbolize the saintʼs giving nature.


According to some experts, there are historical reasons for the traditional items many people use as stocking stuffers. Some claim the candy cane is a symbol of the shepherdʼs staff, also carried by bishops and saints. Others claim that the tradition of placing three citrus fruits, including oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, in the Christmas stocking represents the gold left for the three daughters. Some historians claim that oranges in stockings are a new tradition in the United States started in the 19th century when oranges and other citrus fruits were rare, exotic winter treats. Others claim thereʼs a practical reason for an orange or two in the bottom of the stocking: no other items perfectly fill out the heel and toe of a stocking.


Modern stocking traditions have their roots in Victorian times, although we use stockings quite differently today. A stocking in those times was the main gift most household members received on Christmas Day. There werenʼt stacks of presents piled under the tree as some know the holiday today. However, gifts chosen for the stocking were picked out to personally please the recipient. A mother may get a set of tea towels and colorful thread to embroider them. A father may receive a new handkerchief and watch case in his stocking. Coal was sometimes given as a good luck piece, according to some experts.


In the early to mid-1900s, stocking stuffers ranged from food to practical gifts like soap and fertilizer. In the post-war years, stockings began to be the secondary gift discovered on Christmas morning. More wrapped and unwrapped presents began to appear under the tree as kids and adults asked for record players, bikes and other large items. While stockings ranged from real socks and hosiery to hand-sewn felt creations, fillings changed after the 1960s to include handheld games, dolls, model cars and gadgets including radios, earphones and travel accessories.