A few years ago I entered a holiday writing contest, hosted by my local newspaper. The theme of the contest was “Holiday Traditions” and from the moment I saw it advertised, I knew exactly what I needed to write about.
In our family, Christmas stockings are the highlight of our Christmas traditions and, ultimately, of our Christmas day. There is no other part of Christmas that is so…sacred. (I probably shouldn’t use that word in the context…I mean… “sacred” is the whole point of Christmas…but setting that aside for the time being, let’s take “sacred” to mean – for the duration of this post – “THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT CHRISTMAS”!)
Okay, that being said, everyone looks forward to presents, right? I mean, when kids write letters to Santa, they don’t say, “Please bring me lots of tiny things that will fit into my stocking.” No, they say, “Please bring me a ball or a doll or a new bike.” Or, as in many of the letters from first graders that were printed in the paper yesterday, “ipods, ipads, computers, and a queen-sized bed”. Apparently kids are far more optimistic than they were in my day. Either that or more greedy.
In our family, as in any other, presents such as these under the tree are anticipated with great joy. BUT…it is the stockings, full to over-flowing with fantasticness, that inspire the most glee. They are the first things to be opened on Christmas morning and they tide us over through breakfast as the presents beneath the tree continue to beckon.
Why is it that our stockings are so admired?
Because they’re magical. And they’re huge.
Way back when my father was a boy, his mother began the family tradition of knitting these wonderful stockings for her family. My father’s – knitted with wool yarn and still in working condition – was joined by a new stocking in 1958, again knitted by Grandma, when my mom married into the family. When my sister was born a few years later, Grandma got to work again. And so the tradition continued up until the time when Grandma could no longer remember how to work her needles and my sister – that first-born grandchild – took up the needles for the family. In 2013, we’re anticipating that she’ll have to knit two. Horray!
What is it about reaching into a bulging sock that is so marvelous? Why are the lumps and bumps and glimpses of things sticking out of the top so intriguing? I think that part of the thrill is the hinted-at-mystery – you get snippets of what’s inside, unlike with pristinely-wrapped gifts that reveal nothing of the contents within. Your imagine soars with a stocking! And, to top it off, you get to reach into a dark hole – something your mother cautions you against in normal life (“It could be a snake’s hole! Leave it alone!”) with no fear of what lies within. No biting, scratching, or hissing will send you running, squealing in fear. Squeals of delight are all that await the inquisitive hand on Christmas morning as it reaches down, down, down into the sock of wonder.
And what does that hand find at the bottom? What awaits you at the rounded toe?
An orange, of course.
My kids don’t get the orange. “Why do I want this?” one of them asked one year, holding the tangerine with furrowed brow.
“Because when your great-grandmother was a small girl in Scotland, an orange was a rare and expensive treat and having an orange in the toe of a stocking was a wonderful Christmas surprise!”
My child was unconvinced.
“Just eat it,” I said. “And be thankful. It’s tradition.”
Holiday traditions. They can be strange and they can be wonderful. Our stockings fit both of those descriptions. Filled with everything from new socks (hey, they’re huge and need a few big things to take up space) to toys, candy, toothbrushes, books, novelties, ornaments, ties, hats, mittens and scarves.
Oh, and sometimes babies.
Yes, they’re expensive to fill. But they’re marvelous to unpack.
I can’t wait ‘till Christmas morning!
P.S. – Though I won the contest, I can’t find the original story…sorry! It’s been several years and two computers since then. I have it in a physical file somewhere…in other words, it’s in some box under some bed which I’ll probably find when my kids are grown up and clearing out this house because they’re sending us to a retirement home.