Stockings? A whole column about stockings? Has it come to that?
Have we indeed journeyed through so many seasons of Yule that
we are reduced to a Christmas column about stockings?
yes we are. However, “reduced” is not quite the most
appropriate epithet to pin upon the subject – indeed, before
the Germanic custom of Christmas Trees had taken root (sorry)
in England and America, it was the humble stocking that was the
centerpiece of the Christmas gift tradition! For long centuries,
it was the Christmas Stocking that was the receptacle for all
the mysterious treats and presents that appeared magically on
Christmas Morn, even if now it is often only a side diversion,
a relatively minor receptacle reserved for the humbler magic offerings.
the idea of a Christmas without stockings is untenable. It is
a necessary part of the whole marvelous package. There is a special
bit of magic associated with the Christmas Stocking, its very
presence hearkening back to Christmases more ancient than we can
is not therefore too surprising to discover that there is also
a tradition that the best and most magical Christmas Stockings
must be hand-made. By sheer coincidence, there is a particular
fan of this column who has devoted more years than I can count
to the continuation of this tradition. At this very moment she
is helping other families by restoring older, treasured stockings,
and magically creating replicas of others, so that a child might
have the same stocking as one knitted long ago for the parent.
this particular fan has asked for a folklore column about stockings.
to honor the good works of this particular fan, and to honor the
season, and mostly because this particular fan is also my Mother-in-Law,
and I had better be receptive if I know what’s good for
me, here goes...
the origin of the Christmas Stocking is a simple one, and soon
told. As a matter of fact, it has already been told in this very
column, back in December of 1990, when I related the tale of how
the Bishop (though not yet Saint) Nicholas saved the fortunes
of a struggling family by sneaking three golden balls into the
stockings of the daughters on Christmas Eve. In short, we have
already done it here, and there is no more to be added.
so I thought.
quickly rejected the idea outright, I was assailed that night
by a vision, in which a host of Nordic specters rode across the
heavens, in that great and ancient astral apparition known as
the “Wild Hunt”.
awoke, and I remembered...
it happens that, long centuries ago, centuries before Nicholas
even, in the lands of the Frozen North where the Vikings lived,
tales were told of how Odin, ruler of the heavens, would ride
forth upon Sleipnir, his flying eight-horned, eight-legged horse.
Together with a weird and wonderful host of ghosts, gods and fairies,
he rode across the northern skies chasing phantom game, and woe
to those who were not asleep in their beds at such times!
placate the riders of this Wild Hunt, it was the practice of Viking
children to fill their shoes or stockings with carrots and sugar
for Odin’s flying horse, and place them near the chimney
for easy access. The next morning, the horse treats would be gone,
and in their place the delighted little ones would find a wonderful
assortment of candies and small gifts.
the Vikings spread throughout Europe, so too spread their traditions
and lore, and though the gods of old were supplanted, the ancient
mysteries did but adapt a bit, just enough to accommodate new
rites and rituals. It is thus that the ancient grim visage of
the mighty Odin merged with the slightly gentler one of Saint
Nicholas to produce that jolliest of elves, Santa Claus, his eight
reindeer replacing the eight-horned, eight legged Sleipnir, who
to this day rides through the heavens, now to honor Christmas.
do the older gods graciously make way for the New, and, bowing
their heads, live forever.