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What is the origin of Christmas stockings?

St. Nicholas is said to have inspired this beloved Christmas tradition.

The old man went to bed sad that night. There is no worse feeling for a father than being powerless to protect his children and give them a good life. And it seemed as though he had failed in this regard. It had been a hard year, and he and his daughters barely had enough money to live on from day to day. There was no way he could provide a dowry for them. Without that, they couldn’t marry and faced a life of slavery.

His daughters were afraid, too, but tried to be hopeful. They spoke words of comfort to each other as they did their evening chores. Maybe something good would come along, maybe a miracle would happen, they said. Scrubbing their stockings clean as best they could, they hung them up by the window to dry near the dying fire. Then they went to bed.

The next morning, the daughters went to collect their stockings. But as they approached the window where they hung, what did they see? The stockings were stretched out of shape, with a lump of something in the toes. They quickly investigated, and nearly cried for joy when they found gold coins in each one—more than enough to pay a good dowry. They ran to tell their father, and all four gave thanks to God. Indeed, a miracle had happened.

God’s agent that night had been a clever and generous soul named Nicholas. He had heard of the father’s plight and, wishing to spare the father the shame of accepting charity, had snuck to the window during the night and tossed the money inside, where it had landed inside the girls’ stockings. Nicholas had saved the day—and started a tradition.

This legend of the Christmas stockings is one of the most famous stories handed down to us about St. Nicholas, the 4th-century bishop of Myra in modern-day Turkey. Appearing under various regional titles—“Father Christmas” in Great Britain, “Sinterklaas” in the Netherlands, or “Papa Noël” in France—good St. Nicholas has become the symbol of generosity everywhere Christmas is celebrated.

Speaking of stocking stuffers, how about a set of our bestselling Junior Saints Cards to stuff in a special kid’s stocking this Christmas? This deck of cards—with charming artwork and easy-to-read mini-bios—is a perfect intro to 25 of the Catholic Church’s beloved saints, including St. Nicholas. Available today at The Catholic Company!

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