Stockings: The Best Part of Christmas Morning!

18 Dec

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.


We don't have a they hang here until being stuffed!

We don’t have a mantle…so they hang here until being stuffed!

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.

My much-loved sock!

My much-loved sock!

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!

It's not right that mine is so much smaller than my son's.  It's wool vrs. cotton yarn's fault...

It’s not right that mine is so much smaller than my son’s. It’s the fault of wool vs. cotton yarn, I think…

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.”

Okay, even with huge stockings, sometimes we get a little carried away...

Okay, even with huge stockings, sometimes we get a little carried away…

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.

The best stocking stuffer ever!

The best stocking stuffer ever!

Yes, they’re expensive to fill. But they’re marvelous to unpack.

I can’t wait ‘till Christmas morning!

Trying to make little sister happy with the jingle bells on her stocking...

Trying to make little sister happy with the jingle bells on her stocking…

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.


29 Responses to “Stockings: The Best Part of Christmas Morning!”

  1. wordswithnannaprawn December 18, 2012 at 7:23 pm #

    Ours are on the stair banister as well!! I thought about putting them on the pool fence one year…..but all the chocolate I put in them would melt 🙂

    • Gretchen O'Donnell December 18, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

      Okay, definitely LOLed at that! What would we do without stair banisters?! I hope to put in a mantle one day…but for now, I’m thankful for the stairs!

      • wordswithnannaprawn December 18, 2012 at 7:36 pm #

        I have no need for a fire in Queensland and therefore a mantle would be purely for comedy value. We have a stocking for our dog, is that excessive?

        • Gretchen O'Donnell December 18, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

          No, he’s (or she’s) part of your family! We often have a need for a fire here in Minnesota…or at least have the desire for one!

  2. Minnesota Prairie Roots December 18, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

    We never had stockings growing up, thus that has never been part of our family tradition. I’m surprised the kids did not protest. But what they didn’t know…

    Those knit stockings are fabulous, fabulous, I tell you.

    So, I want to know…who fills your stocking?

    • Gretchen O'Donnell December 18, 2012 at 8:46 pm #

      They are fabulous indeed…and so much of that is because of the history of them. I never knew my grandmother too well, so it’s a wonderful thing to love/appreciate about her. And as for who fills mine…Mom has always been good (and my sisters, too) about sending stuff for me (we’re all aware that moms can be forgotten!) and yes, I buy myself a few things and my husband a few years back got good about it, too – at least buying my favorite candies if not more creative things!

  3. treadlemusic December 18, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    Great post! Stockings were, as you pointed out, filled with the items that would tide you over/through breakfast until the presents were opened. The orange and apple was always a picture perfect specimen and really treasured. Other special little packages would be found, also. My brothers would get little cars, etc. and I got jacks, small jewelry pieces. In many cases the stockings were more highly anticipated (almost) than the other gifts! Oh, the memories;-D

    • Gretchen O'Donnell December 18, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

      Sounds like you completely understand! 🙂 It’s such a fun tradition…and yes, full of memories! Merry Christmas!

      • treadlemusic December 19, 2012 at 6:55 am #

        I totally “get it” but, sadly, in our family that tradition has gone by the wayside. The stockings are still put out but are there for decoration only (evoking fond memories for some of us). The “battle” for what is ‘valued’ has become a bit tilted in favor of what the market is currently pushing. So much richness has gone by the wayside (not all, though, by any means!).

        • Gretchen O'Donnell December 19, 2012 at 7:32 am #

          It takes work to uphold traditions…and you have to pick and choose what’s worth upholding. We don’t have a lot of huge traditions in our family, so this is one of our favorites!

        • treadlemusic December 19, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

          And it’s so lovely! Yes, we have other ‘newer’ traditions that have been embraced and it’s ok. Certainly not something to lose sleep over, hmmm?

  4. cravesadventure December 18, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    I still enjoying digging into my stocking on Christmas morning even into adulthood:) Thanks for sharing – Have a Great One:)

  5. Jenny December 18, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    I totally agree about the stockings. I do a very good job stuffing my own though!! And Aunt Sandy has made a lot of stockings for the rest of the family. Can you imagine what it would be like if all of Dad’s family got together with their stockings! What a picture that would make!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell December 18, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

      That would be awesome! And yes, Nathan mentioned that on FB that his mom made theirs – it’s great when traditions are carried on! 🙂 The best part of Christmas morning, I tell you!

      • Deb Anderson December 19, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

        Yes, imagine them all together….what a wonderful thing grandma started for all of us. I concur totally with your wonderful story, dear cuz.

        • Gretchen O'Donnell December 20, 2012 at 7:32 am #

          🙂 She definitely began a great tradition! Thanks, Deb! (Perhaps we should bring them all out to CO!)

  6. vyvacious December 19, 2012 at 12:03 am #

    What an awesome tradition! The baby in the stocking is so cute!!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell December 19, 2012 at 7:30 am #

      Thanks! I’m sad that she’s my youngest, so no more babies in the stockings!

      • vyvacious December 26, 2012 at 11:16 am #

        At least you were able to get that great shot! So cute!

  7. free penny press December 19, 2012 at 6:13 am #

    Loved this post.. I grew up with stockings and continued on the tradition with my children. Even though they are older now, I still hang and have Santa fill their stockings.

  8. marimann December 19, 2012 at 8:31 am #

    Stockings are the big thing in my mom’s family so when my sister and I go to her house on Christmas, my sister goes right for the stockings. I just learned how to make little books from a single sheet of paper and, having also recently learned from my mother how to make her traditional Christmas spaghetti sauce, I am filling the little books with the recipe and pictures. Then I’m going to sneak them into the stockings before my sister and the rest of the family arrive. Then we eat the traditional Christmas lasagna made with the sauce!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell December 19, 2012 at 9:36 am #

      That sounds marvelous! (Both the books and the sauce!) I love traditions like that and that will be a perfect stocking stuffer! Thanks for telling me!

  9. Clyde of Mankato December 19, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    Our kids made several stockings over their life. My son and his wife after they got together went to a store in San Diego where they will make them to your design as you wait.
    In my childhood my father worked for the DM & IR railroad (Iron range to Two Harbors and Duluth ore docks). Every Christmas in the 1950’s the DM & IR Employees Association gave every family two big bags of peanuts, one big bag of mixed hard candy (must have been five three pounds), a large bag of apples, and a large bag of oranges. They were the only oranges we ever got. Oranges are pure Christmas to me.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell December 19, 2012 at 9:31 am #

      That’s awesome – thanks so much for that story! My husband was born in Ely and he loves those trains! (My mom lived in Virginia for a year or so when she was small and my great-grandmother and two baby uncles are buried there, in fact – I’d like to go and visit some day.) On that happy note…I love the idea of getting your stockings made as you wait! I’ve made a few felt ones…they’re not very good, though. I’m craftily impared.

      • Clyde of Mankato December 19, 2012 at 9:40 am #

        They are woven. Look machine made but they like them. She is a big-city girl.

  10. hotlyspiced December 19, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    What a shame you can no longer find your winning story! I love the history of your stockings and how wonderful that your sister is continuing on with the tradition and knitting them. I think it’s great that you put a tangerine in the bottom of each stocking – of all mornings, children are going to need some fruit before attacking all that candy xx

    • Gretchen O'Donnell December 19, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

      Indeed, they are! Yes, it’s a very fun tradition and time of year. We’ve just gotten a few inches of snow, too, so it feels like Christmas – though I suppose it would be the opposite for you! Have a wonderful Christmas, Charlie!

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