COLUMN: ‘Stockings, hung with care’

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, Dec. 20, 2009 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. A shorter version of this pieced aired Saturday, Dec. 19 on KAXE’s “Between You and Me.” Merry Christmas!

Stockings, hung with care
By Aaron J. Brown

So here’s the premise. Some time ago it was expected that a proper young lady’s family would pay some dude to marry her, something called a dowry. During this time, legend has it, one particular nobleman living in the Byzantine Empire lost a bunch of money in some sort of elaborate ancient way, so much that he could not afford to pay decent dudes to marry his three daughters. The legend continues that old school Nicholas (skinny and not yet a saint) heard about this and was totes like “no wayz.” He then threw (!) three bags of gold down the chimney of this particular family and those bags of gold landed in the daughters’ stockings hanging below (!).

From there, you can imagine what happened next. The three daughters were married away to proper dudes and began the 15-century march of progress toward the Feminist Movement. Nicholas died horribly. OK, this isn’t true. He died in a regular sort of 4th century way. But he did become a saint and well-known for his gift giving, leading to the legend of Santa Claus. (As we all know the current Santa is former “Home Improvement” star Tim Allen, also known as Buzz Lightyear).

From this arose the tradition of hanging stockings on the mantle, or at least in the general space around a large television, in anticipation of Santa Claus filling them with candy, toys and iTunes gift cards. Unlike in the original legend, we don’t wear the modern Christmas stockings hung with care. Not ever. Our current holiday stockings are stripped of function, ridiculous, decorated with yuletide imagery, stitched crudely down the center by a Southeast Asian peasant or possibly a relative. I wonder what St. Nicholas would think of these facade stockings? Surely he would respond with a Byzantine phrase that would be lost on you and me.

Meantime, at our house, the stockings hang waiting for Santa to fill them with Halloween candy (We’re in a recession so Santa shops the sales … besides, orange is kind of like gold.) We haven’t developed any particular tradition relating to stockings, except for the standard “contents are usually edible and wrapped in some kind of metallic scraps” tradition. When I was a kid the stocking was where Santa left the action figure and later the Pearl Jam CDs. In fact, a generation of children who ran to their rooms to listen to Pearl Jam on Christmas morning just might explain a lot of the problems in this mixed up world of ours.

The stocking tradition has variations around the world, almost all of them involving footwear. In Holland and Hungary, kids get presents in their shoes. Most other places use either regular socks or the decorative stockings I’ve already mentioned. Who knew that the tale of St. Nicholas would have such legs! Ha-ha!

In all seriousness, St. Nicholas was really just a rich guy who gave away his fortune anonymously to people who needed help. That’s the true spirit of the season often forgotten as people pour into the malls and box stores looking for just the right stocking stuffers, the sorts of things that say “we hope this will tide you over until you look under the tree.” After St. Nicholas died others carried on the tradition of filling stockings and providing unannounced gifts, a tradition that became attached to Christmas all over the world.

What’s in your stocking this holiday season? It doesn’t have to gold to be good.

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Contact him or read more at his blog His book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range” won the 2008 Northeastern Minnesota Book Award for creative nonfiction.

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