Today's prompt on genealogist Thomas MacEntee's Advent Christmas Calendar blog, is to share our memories involving the tradition of Christmas Stockings.
"Did you have one? Where did you hang it? What did you get in it?"
I do have a special memory involving Christmas stockings, but it was not from my childhood. I will get to that later. The house I grew up in, in Southern California, did not have a fireplace. Like many of the modest one-level tract homes in the neighborhood where I grew up, we had a kitchen, a big dining room area that doubled as the "family room", a living room, 3 bedrooms, and one bathroom...shared by 5 people. We had no fireplace, no mantel. None of the then-newish homes in our tract had fireplaces. Ours was a working-class neighborhood, and the homes were built with just the necessities. Californians did not need a fireplace back in those days, it was thought. Today most of the newer homes do have them, but they are mostly for ambiance. Thus, back then...I do not remember having stockings as part of our tradition when I was a youngster. That tradition would come later.
We put up a brightly decorated tree every year, of course....using many of the same ornaments year after year. I wish that I still had some of those ornaments, which would be family heirlooms today. I still remember the delicate opaque glass bulbs with "Silent Night" etched on them, along with the outlines of a church and steeple covered in snow. We got those at Sears Roebuck. I loved those ornaments then, and would love to have even just one of them now. I was not thinking of preserving family heirlooms back in those days, however. I don't know what happened to them once our parents were gone. Lost in the shuffle.
Though we didn't have a real fireplace, I do recall that later on, those little portable folding cardboard fake "fireplaces" became popular, along with fake tinsel trees. For a couple of years we did use one of those cardboard fireplaces, which had a single plug-in light bulb that gave off a very phony-looking flickering glow that was supposed to look like a flame. I have noticed that another blogger has shared this same memory, so I guess those little folding "fireplaces" were a popular fad. We used ours until it started falling apart after a couple of seasons, and would no longer stand on it's own. I think we might have taped decorative stockings to it one year, with nothing in them since the thing would not support much weight. That was probably the same year we had the shiny aluminum-foil looking fake tinsel tree, which is my child-eyes was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen. That tree shimmered with the lights on it like none other. I thought is was just beautiful, then. My brother Dave and I would lay under that tree at night, before Santa had brought any presents to be placed under the tree, and we would gaze up at all the amazing sparkling colors of the lights reflecting off that shiny tinsel tree. Funny how such simple things used to amuse and fascinate kids back in those days, isn't it? That was long before video games, desktop computers, and all the electronic toys and gadgetry of today. Long before Facebook, of course. And it was "only" the late 1950- early 1960's....not THAT long ago....and yet, it seems like light years ago. And it was decades ago. How did that happen? The years seem to have flown by now, looking back.
The Christmas Stockings tradition would start later in our family, when we three kids grew up, married, and started having kids of our own. By then, Californians had discovered that they did indeed "need" fireplaces after all, apparently...because it became pretty common for most houses to be built with them starting in the seventies. Suddenly we all "HAD to" have a fireplace in any home we lived in...how did we ever survive up to that point living in a house with no fireplace? Of course our kids HAD to have Stockings hanging from the mantel every year. And so, we instilled the Stockings ritual in our kids that we had missed out on growing up.
It really was not until many years later though, that I realized just how much the Stocking Tradition meant to my brother Dave. By the time he had grandchildren, it became his personal tradition to make stocking bags for every person who would be spending Christmas Eve or Christmas Day in his home, which was often quite an assortment of people. He would typically invite assorted relatives, friends, and neighbors over to participate in the Stocking tradition. Frequently, guests receiving a stocking would include any friend or acquaintance who had no place else to go to celebrate the holidays.....all were welcomed, and all received a stocking. These stockings were stuffed with assorted goodies; mostly candy, cookies, nuts, and an assortment of gadgets and trinkets from the Dollar Store. My brother especially liked putting little Dollar Store "toys" like puzzles and spinning tops, jacks and pickup-stix, into the stockings of adults and kids alike. He painstakingly wrapped each and every one of these items by hand, individually, to be placed in every stocking. He wrapped each item so that nobody could "peek" ahead of time, wound tightly with loads of tape and paper. He was reliving his own childhood days, when "peeking" into his own presents was his specialty. He took great glee at the reactions of all of the adults, opening his "stupid little stocking stuffers". These Stockings were usually the hit of every Christmas Eve gathering at his home. We all loved the laughter and giggles that filled the room as people opened their intricately wrapped little surprises in their stockings.
Sadly, my brother passed away a year ago this December. At his memorial service last year, one of the guests got up and spoke of how he had been touched to receive one of those special Stockings from my brother one year. That was the year that this friend had separated from his wife, and felt like he had no place to go to spend Christmas. My brother welcomed him with open arms, and presented him with a Stocking stuffed with these little goodies, much to the friend's surprise. It was such a small thing, and yet it meant so much to the friend. At the memorial, the friend spoke of how much that small act of kindness had touched him, and how he had cherished the memory of that simple gesture of friendship and tradition all the following years. He said he still had one of the little stocking-stuffer spinning tops, all those years later, that he kept in his desk drawer; and that it would be a lasting momento and reminder for him not only of his friend, my brother...but of the true spirit of Christmas, the sharing of friendship and a simple act of kindness.
Now, whenever I see Christmas stockings, I always remember with a smile and a chuckle those Stockings filled by my brother with lots of stupid little stocking stuffers, the love that they were presented with, and how much joy he got from sharing this tradtion with others.