Unwrapping a Christmas tradition: stockings

There’s nothing cosier than sitting by a fireplace, hung with stockings, at Christmas. But do you know why we hang stockings on Christmas Eve, and how it came to become such a beloved tradition? It may have something to do with that little Saint Nick… Our Visitor Experience Manager, Tessa, investigates.

Continuing from last month’s eNews and its bedtime theme, I’ve been thinking about Christmas traditions and a bedtime story that’s been told for millennia in various guises. Have you ever pondered the origins of the tradition of hanging a stocking on the fireplace on Christmas Eve? Well, the answer is in a tale that transports us back to 4th Century Turkey about a man called Nicholas…

First, let me introduce you to a poor man who was in dire straits; I shall call him Eymen for the purpose of this story, as it means ‘good fortune’, which he certainly needed! Eymen had three daughters, all of whom had sweethearts but, having no money, he could not afford a dowry for even just one of them to marry. He feared for their future: if they were not married soon, he could not afford to support them, and their lives looked bleak. Eymen was in despair as to how to solve the situation.

A local man, Nicholas, heard of his plight and being a man of good deeds and great Christian charity, gathered a purse of coins that would provide a dowry for the eldest daughter. He knew that Eymen would not accept his gift easily, so he climbed onto the roof of his house in the night and dropped the purse down the chimney. Some say that he threw the purse through an open window – whichever version you prefer, the purse fell into a stocking that had been hanging by the fire to dry and was found by Eymen the next morning.

The family was overjoyed, and the daughter was able to marry her beau. However, try as he might, Eymen could not find out who his generous benefactor was. A short time later, Nicholas collected enough coin to repeat the act so that the second daughter could marry. The daughter was thrilled but Eymen was by now beside himself as to who could be helping his family. In anticipation of a gift arriving for his third daughter, he took to keeping watch, sleeping by the fireplace each night.

When Nicholas came to stealthily deliver a purse for this final daughter’s dowry, Eymen caught him red-handed. Nicholas was a humble man and wanted no fuss or recognition for his deeds. He begged Eymen not to tell people, but Eymen could not hold his tongue and Nicholas became a hero in his community – so much so that when anyone received a mystery gift or good fortune, they believed it came from Nicholas.

Nicholas was sadly later imprisoned for his Christian beliefs and died on the 6 December 343 AD whilst in captivity. He became the patron saint for children, sailors, students and teachers, and his Saint Day has been celebrated on the anniversary of his death across the Western world over the centuries. In England it became entwined with the midwinter festival, with celebrations focused on the 25 December. Saint Nick, as he is affectionately known, became the inspiration for the Father Christmas figure we know today.

So, when you hang those stockings up this Christmas Eve to be filled with delights during the night, remember a poor man and his daughters whose lives were transformed by what they found in theirs one morning, all thanks to the kindness of another.

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