Mantles adorned with garland and other holiday trinkets make fireplaces come alive for Christmas. That magic is only enhanced by hanging Christmas stockings which are just waiting to be filled with goodies for good girls and boys. Those without a fireplace often hang stockings from windowsills and stairway banisters.
No written record exists to explain the origin of hanging stockings on fireplace mantles. Despite this, many people link the tradition to a tale about St. Nicholas. As the story goes, St. Nicholas was traveling through a village when he overheard the plight of three women. They were poor, and their father could not afford an ample dowry to marry them off. Rather than have them end up spinsters, St. Nicholas secretly tossed bags of coins through a window (or down the chimney, depending on which version of the story you read or hear), and they were captured in the girls’ stockings hanging to dry by the fire. The family was overjoyed to have received such riches.
Soon news traveled about the mysterious money in stockings, and other children left out stockings for St. Nicholas to capture their own gifts The tradition has transformed over the years, and now many children hang stockings by the chimney with the expectation that the stockings will be filled with gifts from Santa. Traditions once suggested that only gifts from Santa were left in stockings, while gifts placed beneath the tree were from family, but that has since changed. Stockings are now meant to hold small gifts while larger items are placed under the tree.
Stockings should be hung away from the flames of the fire as a safety precaution. Some children even like to hang individual stockings on their bedposts instead of on a fireplace mantle.