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One of the most enjoyable parts of Christmas morning has always been the first order of business – stocking opening! As a child, to see a stocking with your name on it, hanging above the fireplace all month is as tantalizing as the boxes that sit under the tree. It’s all the more exciting because you can never hope to reach it all the way up there above the fireplace. You can sort of make out the shape of a very small book and maybe a bubble maker… or is it a tube of toothpaste? You will have to wait for Christmas Day. As a teenager, your mom might stuff your stocking with things like socks and school supplies and the whole stocking thing is just a preamble to the real fun. The loot you are really interested in under the tree in the shape of an X-Box.

As an adult, you come to recognize that it’s the little things that make Christmas such a special time. Filling your loved ones’ stockings with things that they have expressed an interest in during the past few months is the fun part – even if it means giving your wife that candle she was smelling when you went to the gift store, or that super small battery that you had to hunt down for your husband’s thingamajig.

We have been hanging Christmas stockings for as long as we can recall, but do we actually know why? Where did the Christmas stocking come from? What is the tradition behind it? When did the ritual start? When you really think about it, hanging a strangely shaped stocking (that looks less like a stocking and more like a candy cane crossed with a winter sock) above the fireplace seems like a silly thing to do without knowing the reason for it.

The story of the Christmas stocking varies depending on who is doing the story telling, but one of the more popular versions is the legend of a nobleman who lost his wife to illness and was left to care for his three young daughter. Growing ever more downcast and disheartened every day, the nobleman makes a series of bad financial decisions, comes up with some failed inventions that do not sell, and is left penniless and having to put food on the table for his family. By this time, the girls are all of a marrying age, but without money for a dowry, the man knows that his daughters will never wed.

One cold night in December, the girls wash their thick winter stockings and hang them to dry above the fire place before turning in for the evening. Later that same night, Saint Nicholas, who has taken pity on the family, visits the house where they live. Sitting atop the chimney, he sees the three sets of stockings hanging above the fireplace. Struck with inspiration, he takes three bags of gold from his sack, and drops them one by one, into each of the stockings. In the morning, the girls wake to find enough gold in each of their stockings for a dowry. The nobleman’s daughters are able to marry and he is freed from his terrible despair.

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Today, the tradition is continued with our hanging of stockings above the fireplace or on the mantle, to be filled with, not coins of gold, but small treasures, keepsakes and candy that family members have collected during the year. Or that’s the idea anyway. Often the stocking is filled with a host of useless bits and bobs known as “stocking stuffers”, for their often superfluous and excessive nature. Sometimes though, if a valuable gift is small enough, it may find its way into a stocking, making unpacking them a mysterious and exciting part of Christmas morning!

TIPS FOR BUYING OR MAKING CHRISTMAS STOCKINGS

Like the idea of making Christmas stockings for your own family? Perhaps you want to buy some fancy ones that look too complicated for you and your lack of a sewing machine. First things first – they don’t have to match the lounge room décor. There’s something romantic about keeping your stockings Christmas after Christmas and chances are you’ll change your home décor once or twice over the years. You don’t want to be hanging your funky lime and fuchsia stockings from your college dorm room in your beige and cobalt blue grown up lounge room.

It’s a good idea to get an eclectic collection that you can add to when new additions in the form of babies or pets come into the household. It’s a lot easier to find a stocking that fits a general theme or that is completely different from the others than trying to hunt down stockings from a catalog you bought from three years ago.

If you want to make your own stocking, there are lots and lots of patterns that you can download for free from craft websites. The job is made a lot easier if you have a sewing machine, especially if you are making a number of stockings for family members. You can do without though, and this adds even more authenticity to the notion of “hand made”.

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If you are particularly handy, and can knit, woolen stocking look beautiful and last for a long time. Find a pattern online and give yourself a few months to complete the project, lest you be caught on December 24th with two halves of a stocking, held together with staples or electrical tape. Not a very festive addition to the décor…

If you don’t knit, you are not alone. Gone are the days when every mother and grandmother in Christendom could have whipped up a family’s share of Christmas stockings in a matter of days. Now, the almost lost art of knitting is having to drag itself back from obscurity in the form of “Stitch & Bitch” knitting clubs.

Either join one of these increasingly popular knitting groups, or find another material for your stocking. First you need to choose and buy your fabric. Popular choices are felt, burlap, denim and quilting cotton. You can also use old woolen blankets or sweaters. Cut the fabric into two candy cane shaped pieces, and overlapping them so all the sides match up, sew them together at about one centimeter in from the seam. Be sure not to sew across the top of the stocking!

Now to get creative with the design. You can fix white fluffy trim (available in any craft store) to the top of the stocking for a traditional snow capped look, or sew buttons or sequins on for an eclectic look. Making a stocking is as easy as that, and you will have created something that your family will enjoy for years to come. Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!