Stocking Stuff

As much as I try to maintain the ‘true meaning of Christmas’ (through the images I choose to reflect on Christmas cards and wrapping paper, the musical selections of carols in the midst of secular songs and our participation in Advent), one trapping of the ‘holiday’ season that I cannot seem to eliminate is the Christmas stocking.  I recognize the secular source of these socks hung over the hearth – I have seen the documentary “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, which cogently gives the history of the holiday hosiery as a means of Kris Kringle avoiding the mandates of the mean-spirited Burgermeister Meisterburger so that the children of Sombertown could receive ‘outlawed’ toys.

There is another possible origin story involving the real Saint Nicholas.  It seems that there was a once wealthy nobleman who had three daughters.  This nobleman fell upon hard times and could not afford a dowry to enable his girls to be married.  This inability to accept proposals filled the family with shame.  Nicholas heard of this man’s misfortune and, having riches from an inheritance, secretly gave the young women bags of gold, throwing them inside the house through an open window.  One of these bags made its way into a stocking.  As religious and pious as the story sounds, it is as dubious and as unlikely as the imaginative plotline of stop-motion animators Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass.

Whatever the source, stockings have always been a tradition in my family.  We are (okay, it is probably more me than anyone else) peculiar in our practice of ‘stuffing’:  the trinkets are never wrapped or labeled (everyone knows they are filled by Santa), there is always at least one toy (since that is what Santa brings from his workshop) and there is always at least one piece of fruit (it is anyone’s guess why).  The stocking is the first thing that is ‘opened’.  While it may contain small, inexpensive and ordinary items, it is an important part of our family’s Christmas.

The stocking is a sort of microcosm for the nativity.  In both, there are a number of ordinary things grouped together to make a whole that is so much greater than the parts.  There is the humility of Mary, the righteousness of Joseph and the simplicity of the shepherds.  There is a single star, a meager manger and some common cloth.  The ‘real’ gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh – arrived days (if not weeks) later.   Yet, when combined, they amount to so much more than a simple, albeit rustic, arrival of a first-born child. It becomes the greatest gift the world has ever received.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14

My hope and prayer for you this Christmas is that you will see the glory of the one and only Son.  Whether your stockings are hung by the chimney with care (in hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be there) or you enjoy some other Christmas tradition, may the ordinary aspects of your celebration accumulate to much more than you can imagine.

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One response

  1. Mike —

    Thanks for another timely and insightful article.

    My family lived in a tenement after I was born. When I was about three, my sister one, my dad decided to improve our war-time Christmases. Having no fireplace, and the living room being “smallish”, my dad tacked a small simple shelf that he’d made – his father was a master carpenter and my father was extremely competent in that art – to the living room wall, constructed a “fireplace” around the shelf from cardboard, then tacked on four stockings for himself, my mother, my sister and me. The stockings were my long “knickers socks” (??!). We moved to a better apartment building closer toward the center of Hartford when I was ten, 1948. He reconstructed the “fireplace” before Christmas for a few years until it was succeeded by a more “artistic” one that I’d crafted from wood. The ersatz fireplace usually stayed intact until the end of the second week of January when it was disassembled, packed and stored in the cellar awaiting its next year’s appearance. After my high school graduation the custom was discontinued. Those certainly were different times …

    Best regards,

    Frank

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