Thursday, December 29, 2005

Why do we "Hang stockings by the fire with care?"

Jean has asked a lovely question.

"I know it's after Christmas, but why do we 'hang stockings by the fire with care'? Why stockings and why the mantel? "

There are several reasons in history that seem to lend to this tradition we have adopted as put down in the well known poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas" by Clement Clarke Moore.

According to Germanic folklore, the god Odin would have a great hunting party each year at Yule. Children would place straw, carrots or sugar in their boots by the chimney for Odin's flying horse Sleipnir to eat as they went by on their way to this hunting party. Odin, being so thankful for this kindness to his horse, would then replace the food with candy or gifts for the children. After the spread of Christianity, this tradition was adopted throughout the region and associated with Saint Nicholas, who also rode around on a horse and was rumored to replace the straw with gifts.

Both Odin and Saint Nicholas were commonly seen as being an old mysterious man with a long white beard. As these traditions changed and moved across countries, when they came to America, it changed from the shoes by the chimney to the stockings or socks by the fireplace and rather than just leaving them on the floor, they were "hung with care" on the mantle.

He has different names in different countries. Sinterklaas is from the Dutch and was a mythical character based on the idea of Saint Nicholas. He rode a flying white horse and was known to have helpers and climb down the chimney to deposit gifts in children's shoes. Britain and the United States took this name and changed it to Santa Claus.

And we still put out a snack for Santa (cookies & milk) and quite often for his reindeer (carrots) and hope fervently for him to replace our offering with gifts and candy. At least I do. :) I was a good girl this year.


Jean said...

My brain has been expanded. Thank you for your insight. I will now hang my stockings more carefully. And as for you, yes, you were a good girl this year :)

anne said...

I'm glad I could learn you something. My resources have long been dormant...

Jean said...

I had another question for you, but I found out the answer before I could think to ask. Hmmm...don't even know if that makes sense :)

Anonymous said...

I'm Hungarian and on the night of December 6th, the tradition is that if we leave our boots out, they get filled with goodies. This is if you're a kid, of course and it has nothing to do with Christmas for us though it IS Santa who comes.

On the evening of the 24th, we celebrate Christmas - gifts brought to us by Angels.