History of the Christmas Stocking

“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.” This famous line from the 1823 poem. written by Clement Clarke Moore, entitled “A Visit from St. Nicholas” is widely known around the world. Therefore, we know that Christmas stockings were around since at least 1823 but when and where did they originate? This blog will look at Christmas stockings, possible origins, and modern-day usage.  Information in this blog comes from Christmas stocking, Then and Now: The Evolution of the Christmas Stocking, The tradition of hanging Christmas stockings was introduced by St. Nicholas, the patron of children, and Socks or Shoes? Why We Hang Christmas Stockings.

What is a Christmas Stocking?

A Christmas stocking is an empty sock or sock-shaped bag that is hung on Saint Nicholas Day or Christmas Eve so that Saint Nicholas (or the related figures of Santa Claus and Father Christmas) can fill it with small toys, candy, fruit, coins, or other small gifts when he arrives. These small items are often referred to as stocking stuffers or stocking fillers. In some Christmas stories, the contents of the Christmas stocking are the only toys the child receives at Christmas from Santa Claus; in other stories (and in tradition), some presents are also wrapped up in wrapping paper and placed under the Christmas tree. Tradition in Western culture threatens that a child who behaves badly during the year will receive only a piece or pile of coal. Some people even put their Christmas stocking by their bedposts so Santa Claus can fill it by the bed while they sleep.

Christmas stockings did not used to be fancy. Each year, children would simply hang long socks over the mantel to be filled with nuts, fruits, candies, and small toys.

Eventually, families began knitting their own Christmas stockings and customizing them with names or initials. Once that trend caught on, craft stores started selling materials and patterns for stockings, which gradually gave way to mass-produced stockings. The traditional red stocking came into play around 1960.

Today, Christmas stockings vary in style from family to family. Pet stockings are becoming more and more popular as well. Pet-loving families purchase fish-shaped stockings for cats and bone-shaped stockings for dogs and fill them with the animal’s favorite treats and toys!

Possible Origins of the Christmas Stocking

According to legend, the tradition of hanging Christmas stockings comes from the fourth century and involves the man Santa Claus is based off, St. Nicholas. While passing through a town, Nicholas heard of a man who was grieving the loss of his wife, as well as his poor fortune, unable to pay a dowry for his three daughters’ potential suitors. Upon hearing the news, legend states Nicholas sneaked into the man’s home — or climbed down the chimney — and dropped gold coins in the daughters’ stockings, which were hanging by the fireplace to dry. The poor man, too proud to accept donations, could pay dowries for his daughters. As the story spread, families began putting gifts in stockings to mimic receiving good gifts from Santa Claus.

In another version of the story, gold balls were placed in the stockings. This turned into the tradition of putting oranges in stockings, which resemble gold but are much more affordable to the general public.

Another amusing legend that explains the tradition of Christmas stockings derives from the Dutch folklore. In the Netherlands, Santa Claus, called “Sinterklaas” in Dutch, and his fellow assistant Black Pete or “Zwarte Piet” annually dock in the harbor of a different city. When they disembark, Sinterklaas and his pal travel around upon a white steed and a mule. The children impatiently wait for their arrival and prepare special treats of hay and carrots which they place in their wooden clogs.

On the day of the arrival, the horse, the mule, and Sinterklaas would enjoy the children’s treats and then reward their devotion and care with small presents such as candies, ornaments, nuts in shells, miniature toys etc. When the Dutch settlers immigrated to America, they introduced Americans to many of their traditions. After a while, Sinterklaas became known as Santa Claus and, allegedly, the wooden clogs were replaced by stockings.

The tradition of putting coal in stockings comes from Italy, where La Befana, an elderly woman who is said to be searching for the three wise men and baby Jesus, left candy for the nice children and coal or dark candy for the naughty children on her travels.

Modern Day Stocking Traditions from Around the World

France: French children put their shoes by the fireplace with a carrot or treat in it for Père Noël‘s donkey. When they wake up, they find candy, money, or small toys in their place.

The United Kingdom: In the U.K., kids hang stockings from the fireplace mantle to catch the coins that Father Christmas drops down the chimney.

Ecuador: Ecuadorian children put their Christmas lists inside of their shoes. Those lists are replaced by Papa Noel with new shoes and presents.

Iceland: In Iceland, children leave their shoes on the windowsill. 13 mythical elves called Olasveiner visit one at a time over 13 days to leave gifts. Children that were bad over the year are given potatoes.

Hong Kong and China: Though Christmas is not traditionally celebrated in these countries, those that do celebrate hang muslin stockings up and wait for Dun Che Lao Ren (Christmas Old Man) to fill them.

Puerto Rico: In Puerto Rico, children put cut grass in shoeboxes underneath their beds on the night before Three Kings day (January 6th) for the three wise men’s camels. The next day, they find a small toy in the box instead.

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Fun Facts, Statistics, and World Records Based on Gifting and the Holidays

This week’s blog is purely for fun. Hope it brings some smiles, happiness, and new trivia into your lives. Information from this blog was taken from 7 Fun Facts About Holiday Gift-Giving, Nine Gift-Related Facts You Didn’t Know, Holiday Spending Statistics That Paint a Clear Picture of Consumer Habits Holiday Spending Statistics for 2020, and Christmas World Records.

Fun Facts

The following are just a few fun facts when it comes to the holidays and gift giving. Some you may already know but hopefully others will be ones you had not heard of before.

The Midwest is where the most gifts are exchanged. People in the Midwest plan on buying gifts for an average of 9.04 recipients, which is by far the most of any region. Coming in second is the South, they average 8.50 recipients per person.

Baby boomers give gifts to the fewest recipients (of all currently adult generations). The most generous generation was the Silent Generation, which includes those born between 1928 and 1945. They averaged 8.73 recipients. Generation X was right behind them with 8.65 recipients, followed by millennials with 8.31.

Over half of Americans are last-minute shoppers.  Men more than women are likely to wait just before the special occasion to select a gift. It has also been proven that, overall, women are better at picking gifts than men are.

50% of recipients are not thrilled.  About 50% of recipients do not like the gifts they receive. Therefore, giving useful gifts is considered the best way of winning your recipient’s affection. This is especially true for men, who would rather receive a practical gift than something that simply looks nice.

Interesting Statistics

When it comes to shopping and gift giving some of these statistics may be quite eye opening and possibly even amusing.

Average Christmas Spending:

  • The average American planned to spend $942 on holiday gifts in 2019. (Gallup)
  • Last year, Americans spent $227.26 on non-holiday gift purchases such as decorations. (Alliant Credit Union)
  • Americans decide their holiday gift spending based on how close they are to the gift recipient (58 percent) and whether or not they’re family (28 percent). (Mint 2020 Holiday Survey)
  • Over 50 percent of holiday spending goes towards clothing and accessories. (Avant)
  • In 2019, holiday retail sales soared past $700 billion, making it the biggest holiday shopping season. (Statista)

Holiday Spending 2019 vs. 2020

  • Fifty-one percent of Americans plan to spend the same on holiday gifts in 2020 as they did in 2019. (Mint 2020 Holiday Survey)
  • Roughly 40 percent of holiday shoppers plan to spend less this year, and 8 percent plan to spend more. (Mint 2020 Holiday Survey)
  • Over half of consumers are opting out of retail shopping due to health risks. (Accenture)
  • Seventy-four percent of people agree that events will only include a small get-together. (Morning Consult)
  • In addition, 47 percent of adults agree that holiday events will be canceled. (Morning Consult)

Random Statistics:

  • Shopping for Christmas in the US starts on November 1 for 42% of consumers.
  • Consumers who begin their holiday spending before the end of October end up spending $1,761 on average – about 28% more than late shoppers.
  • Christmas is a time of giving to others: 70% of consumers report they will engage in some sort of charitable activity.
  • Holiday shoppers are very receptive to promotional offers – 82% of them are influenced by holiday discounts and other promotions.
  • Pet lovers are also big shoppers. In 2019, 77 percent of pet owners planned for their pets to be part of their holiday festivities. (The Dog People)

World Records

Finally, the last part of this blog will look at some incredibly unique and super specific world records concerning the holidays. These are but a few of the 65 records presented from the Christmas World Records which is part of Record Setters. Each record is complete with a short video depicting the feat at hand.

Most holiday songs sung by a duet in one minute was accomplished in Meso, Arizona on February 27, 2015. Paul Green and Mandy Nelson sang 18 holiday songs in one minute.

Most laps around a Christmas tree in one minute with a child on your shoulders was awarded to Pavol Durdik from Puchov, Slovakia. He circled the tree 23 times on January 02, 2017.

The fastest time to undecorate a tree goes to Chris Forsberg of Rosamond, California. He completed this task in 2.7 seconds using his car.

Longest time balancing a wreath on one thumb while dressed as Santa Claus goes to Mark Evans of Ruabon, Wales. He balanced the wreath for 18 minutes and 28.57 seconds on December 15, 2015.

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon takes the honor for having the most people sitting on Santa’s lap at one time simultaneously saying their wishes. This feat was accomplished on December 14, 2012 in NYC, NY.

The largest group to play “Joy to thee World” on kazoos goes to the Thirst Youth Convention in Erie, PA. On November 23, 2013 they had 588 participants all playing this song together.  

There are 59 more feats that can be discovered by visiting the linked site above.

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The History, Psychology, and Traditions of Gift Giving

Gift giving is something one tends to think about during the holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. But did you know that gift giving is not just a human phenomenon? Keep reading if you would like to learn more about the history, psychology, and a few ways other countries participate with gift giving. Information in this blog comes from The Origins and History of Gift Giving and The History of Gift Giving.

History of Gift Giving

The tradition of gift giving is certainly not new to us. It goes back thousands and thousands of years – pretty much back to the beginning of human time. Gift giving has been a special part of all nations, cultures, and societies, making it something all humans throughout history have taken part in. In this sense, gift giving is a fundamental part of human behavior, emerging from a range of different cultural backgrounds.

Gift giving has also always been present in the animal kingdom. Our chimpanzee ancestors have been known to give food to females in exchange for potential mating or receiving favors from others. Another example is that cats will often bestow a gift on their human’s doorstep (occasionally pillow if inside cats) of their fresh “kill” whether it be an actual mouse or a toy.

The ancient tradition of gift giving can be traced as far back as cavemen. Typical gifts given among cavemen were teeth and stones, which were classed as keepsakes at the time. These gifts were widely appreciated since they could be carved into something special for the recipient, such as a necklace or other form of accessory, and could be displayed to everyone in the tribe with pride.

During the Middle Ages, valuable gifts were often food-based and were intended to be a symbol of power. If people wanted to get political or religious favors, or simply show their loyalty to the institutions, gift giving was certainly the way forward.

While gift giving among humans begun with cavemen offering simple items to prove his ability to provide for a family, the process has become an incredibly crucial and extravagant part of our lives. As we are sure you all know, gift giving is a traditional part of many occasions.

Psychology of Gift Giving

The psychology of why gift giving is so rewarding is simple; it allows people to connect. Making connections with people around us gives us a sense of purpose and feeling of satisfaction. There is an old saying “it is better to give than receive” and the psychology of gift giving backs this up.

There has been a considerable amount of research over the years into the feelings of wellbeing that occurs when we give gifts to those we care about. From as early as cavemen days gift giving has been rewarding which may be the reason it has stood the test of time. Here are some reasons as to why:

Makes You Feel Happy: Simply put, the giving of gifts can make a person feel happier about themselves as well as to the person that has received their gift.

Improves Your State of Mind: Research suggests that giving gifts may improve a person’s state of mind. If giving a gift makes you feel happier with a sense of purpose, then this may inevitably improve your state of mind.

Gives You a Greater Social Connection: By giving a gift, you are not only expressing your feelings but building a stronger connection to that person as well. Not only does the person receiving the gift feel closer to the giver, but also vice versa. This greater social connection also means an improvement in the state of being as well as overall happiness.

It is Contagious: When a person starts giving gifts, not only will the recipient become more likely to give, those around them who see this act will start giving as well. This is in part due to the release of the endorphins, which not only benefits the giver, but is also felt by those who receive and see the act of giving as well.

Gift Giving Traditions in Other Countries

Different countries and cultures have their own norms and expectations when it comes to gifts and gift giving. Here are a few examples from countries around the world.

China: There is an important gift giving tradition in China for their 2 week Chinese New Year Celebration – any gifts must be wrapped in red wrapping paper or envelopes, since the color red is known to represent wealth and prosperity. This shows that you wish good fortune to the loved ones you are giving gifts to and signifies a hopeful new year to all. In turn, the colors blue, black and white should be avoided, as they represent death and funerals. Interestingly, this is the same with the number 4. If, for example, someone was giving another money as a gift, they should not give them an amount with the number 4 in it!

Italy: Italy has a particularly unusual gift giving tradition for weddings. Wedding guests buy parts of the groom’s tie, which had been cut up into many different pieces, and the money goes to the bride and groom as a symbol of starting their new life together. It is almost like giving them a financial helping hand as they begin their life as a married couple. The guests would then keep the tie pieces as a souvenir of the special day, always helping them remember the occasion.

Japan: Children who are aged 3, 5 or 7 in Japan are especially lucky on their birthdays. Years ago, many children in Japan would pass away before reaching these ages, making it a tradition to doubly celebrate when children turn 3, 5 or 7. As well as celebrating their actual birthday, children of these ages would visit a shrine and receive sweets from a priest, meaning they get to commemorate their birthdays twice in one year.

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