Clement Clarke Moore immortalized the tradition of hanging stockings near the hearth on Christmas Eve in his famous 1822 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Each year, families across the country and the world re-live the ritual of Christmas Eve that Moore describes. Doubtless, this tradition is linked to an alternate December tradition associated with the morning of December 6th, the feast day of St. Nicholas: to set out shoes near the door in hopes that the traveling saint would reward a child for a year's good behavior by leaving treats of fruit and chocolate or in recompense for a year of misbehaving, a brutal punishment of switches and coals. Over time these gifting traditions required not just any shoe or any stocking, but special items designated for use on these specific nights. Specially decorated for the season and usually of exaggerated size to accommodate a maximum amount of chocolates and "stuffers", the stockings especially had become an art form all their own. We see them or at least remember them in various media: cloth or felt, needlepoint, crochet, as well as countless examples of fine knitted ones, almost always personalized somehow, either labeled with a name or an initial designating the owner of a particular Christmas Day haul. When I was a child, I must confess, given the dominant German seasonal traditions while growing up, I did not own a Christmas stocking, nor did anyone in my family. We did, however, set out shoes on the night of December 5th. However, neither do I recall any of my friends speaking of the tradition of hanging stockings. The Christmas stocking was something rather old fashioned for practical use. It had for a time, I suppose, become more a symbol of Christmas past, a bit of nostalgia you read about in novels and poems. As many of you know, my mother had managed the fiber arts department back in the mid 1960's in Little Rock's Pfeiffer's department store. She handled supplies for knitting, crochet, needlepoint, embroidery, as well as a host of craft kits that held quite an appeal at the time. Among these, one yarn manufacturer made Christmas Stocking kits that were wildly popular. They came with yarn, the pattern, and all the little sew-on accessories needed to complete a stocking. People would buy multiples of these and knit them up for their kids. Meanwhile, at our house, we had the shoe.
Back when I opened VBYC, a client stopped in with a tattered Christmas stocking depicting a Santa Clause filling a row of similar stockings hanging from a brick mantle. The stocking had been created by her mother some time in the 1950's, and each of her children had one. My client ordered several of these in order to carry on the family tradition, that every child should have a hand-knit Santa stocking hanging from the mantle on Christmas Eve. So, I created a new stocking with an ancient inspiration to jump start one family's rediscovery of a Christmas tradition. I was intrigued by this, recalling the kits my mom mentioned had once existed. After a bit of digging, sure enough: the things were all the rage from the late 1940's to the early 1970's, when the patterns (and perhaps also interest in perpetuating the tradition) became extinct. This explains why none of my peers ever talked about having knitted stockings like these, because, more than likely, they didn't. These were Americana associated mainly with the post war Baby Boom and seem to have fallen off the radar by the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
Since then, countless clients both local and across the country have contacted me regarding this Santa stocking. They were recognizing it from their childhood, either having had one themselves or knowing someone who did. Like the one that inspired it, I have sent many kits for the stocking to knitters at home and abroad and completed many more that are chimney ready. A few weeks ago, another client visited the shop with another single stocking with a different design. "I need more of these. I hear you can make them." New inspiration for the re-invention of another American Christmas classic. You see, it's not a matter of any Christmas Stocking, but of this Christmas Stocking. The new stockings must contain a mix of old and new: new styling, and fresh yarns, but they must still contain a recognizable link to the original that inspired them. The new stockings are not carbon copies, but new children in the family.
Lowly project kits purchased by Mom at a department store back in the '50's to bring Christmas joy to her kids (and add a bit of holiday cheer to her living room at the same time) had become for those kids, now adults, fond memories of Christmas. Although the original patterns are gone (or exist somewhere crumbling in knitting baskets), new, updated stockings can be created to hang next to the ones of a previous generation, linking into and carrying on family traditions to inspire new happy memories.
The pictures accompanying this article show an original knitted stocking my client brought to me. The photo shows the new stocking in progress. The next step here will be to secure the tails and to add the sparkly accessories. The American Christmas Stocking: rediscovering family traditions.