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Tradition Of Stocking Fillers

Stacking stockings for years...

Tradition Of Stocking Fillers

Nowadays, children (and many adults too) look forward to receiving their Christmas gifts, and for most children this will entail receiving a Christmas Stocking Filler. The joy of waking up in the dark and fumbling at the foot of the bed until your hand finds that knobbly, rustling, full-of-surprises stocking is a memory that remains with you forever. Not many of us will stop to wonder where this tradition began but like most traditions it has its roots far away in history.

The tradition of giving small gifts began with St Nicholas, a senior bishop born in Turkey in 270A.D. After his death, a group of sailors who worshipped Nicholas moved his bones to Bari in Italy where he took the place of a female deity known as The Grandmother, or Pasqua Epiphania, who used to fill the children's stockings with her gifts. Her shrine at Bari then became the centre of the Nicholas cult. Group members gave each other gifts during a pageant they conducted annually on the anniversary of Nicholas' death, on December 6.

These groups worshipped a pantheon led by Woden -their chief god and the father of Thor, Balder, and Tiw. Woden had a long, white beard and rodea horse through the heavens one evening each autumn. The persona of Nicholas merged with Woden and he shed his Mediterranean appearance, grew a beard, mounted a flying horse, rescheduled his flight for December, and donned heavy winter clothing. Sound familiar?

In 1809, the novelist Washington Irving (most famous for writing The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle) wrote a satirical piece on Dutch culture entitled Knickerbocker History. In this he refers several times to the white bearded, flying-horse riding Saint Nicholas using his Dutch name, Santa Claus.

Between 1862 and 1886, illustrator Thomas Nast drew more than 2,200 cartoon images of Santa for Harpers Weekly based on Moores poem. Nast gave Santa a home at the North Pole, his workshop filled with elves, and his list of the good and bad children of the world. The only thing missing was Santas red outfit. This change happened in 1931 when the Coca Cola Corporation commissioned Swedish commercial artist Haddon Sundblom to create a coke-drinking Santa. The company insisted that Santas fur-trimmed suit be bright, Coca Cola red. And thus Santa as we now know him was born.

Now, what about the giving of gifts and Christmas stockings at the time? The hanging of stockings had become popular in the Victorian period but for the poorer children only a few nuts and some fruit would be available. For the lucky children from richer families a whole host of gifts were possible: for a girl, things such as a doll and clothes to dress her in, hair ribbons, a sewing kit, drawing pencils, a book, a canary(!), or perhaps mittens or a muff to keep out the cold. A boy might have a stamp album, marbles, some skates, a sled, a toy pistol, and a wind-up toy such as a tin soldier, a model train, carved animals or a shoeshine kit.

Gifts might be very different now but the sheer joy and delight for the millions of children has not changed.

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