The ‘traditional’ Christmas Stocking is usually displayed as overflowing with small toys, gobs of sweets and at least one or two candy canes. Over the last few decades the sweets have begun to outnumber the small toys. Whether this is so because of the mass production of candy, because we love sweets more than toys, or because candy and cookies fit stockings easier than most current toys is hard to say. The one thing I can say for certain is that it wasn’t always this way.
There is much debate over the origins of the Christmas Stocking. However, Phyllis Siefker’s explanation seems most reasonable to me. According to Siefker [Siefker, Phyllis. Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years (chap. 9, esp. 171-173)], “children would place their boots, filled with carrots, straw, or sugar, near the chimney for Odin’s flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat. Odin would reward those children for their kindness by replacing Sleipnir’s food with gifts or candy. This practice, she claims, survived in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands after the adoption of Christianity and became associated with Saint Nicholas as a result of the process of Christianization.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_stocking.
The stockings of my childhood—early in the last half of the 20th century—followed this tradition of small gifts and food usually oranges and nuts with one or two pieces of candy. The reasons less to do with economics than tradition. In 1952 Sugar sold for 43 cents for 5 pounds. http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/50sfood.html A quick search of the web showed that today refined sugar prices range between 50 – 60 cents per pound. My mother, a child of the depression, came from a Swedish family. During her childhood candy and refined sugar was expensive. Refined sugar, which had to be imported over great distance, was not a standard component of Swedish diets. Mother’s stocking traditions included fruit (also expensive but less so than refined sugar), nuts and small toys, so that’s what went into my stockings, even though we lived in the US one of the top ten producers of refined sugar.
Later when I had the job of filling stockings for my kids, I tried the fruit and nuts tradition once and ended up throwing away uneaten oranges, pecans, raisins, and peanuts that my children refused to eat. Since I would not knuckle under to candy mania, I replaced the sweets with dental floss, toothpaste, and toothbrushes. To this day, when our kids are grown and no longer at home to hang their stockings, I still put dental care packages in my and my husband’s Christmas Stockings.
Please leave a comment and tell me what’s in your Holiday Stocking. One lucky commenter will find free download of one of my books coming their way on Dec. 25, 2013. You can check out all my books at http://rueallyn.com/2Books.html or purchase directly from Amazon.