Christmas stockings: Why people hang them, what goes in them and where to find gift ideas

Loading them with gifts (for those on the nice list) is a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages

Stocking fillers are traditionally small, inexpensive gifts. Donna Spearman / Unsplash
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Hanging up stockings has been a Christmas tradition for centuries.

They're typically put up on Christmas Eve and filled with food, gifts and toys – by Santa, of course – but only for those who have been good.

Stocking fillers usually consist of small affordable gifts and toys along with essentials such as socks or handkerchiefs.

Fruit – usually oranges, satsumas or mandarins are included – along with nuts and candy canes. Recently, chocolate coins have become a favourite and stockings, whether bought or homemade, can be tailored to suit any budget or style.

Why do we hang Christmas stockings?

There are a couple of countries from where the tradition of hanging and filling stockings may have come from.

The Dutch shoe tradition is one possibility and dates back to the Middle Ages.

In the Netherlands on St Nicholas Day (December 6), children would fill their shoes, usually a clog, with food gifts for the saint – such as nuts and fruits – and put them by the fireplace. In return, St Nick would leave edible treats, such as mandarins, and gifts.

Italy is another country where the tradition may have started from through Befana celebrations. In Italian folklore, La Befana is a kind old witch who delivers presents to children on Epiphany Eve (January 5 or 6).

Dating back to the 13th century, children would leave food out for La Befana, and receive small gifts in return.

In the US, Christmas stockings are mentioned in the 1823 poem A Visit from St Nicholas, also known as T’was The Night Before Christmas, by the American writer Clement Clarke Moore. "The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there," it reads.

Stocking traditions from around the world

In the Czech Republic, the stocking is hung on a window on the evening of December 3, so that Barborka (St Barbara) can fill it with sweets, fruit and nuts.

While stockings have become popular to hang at Christmas time in the UK and US, many cultures continue to use shoes instead to give and receive gifts.

In Ecuador, shoes are placed near a doorway and contain a list of toys children would like to receive; while in France, shoes are put beside the fireplace with a food gift for Pierre Noel, as well as a treat for his donkey.

In Iceland, children put their shoes on the windowsill for magical elves called "Olasveiners" to leave small gifts over 13 days.

In Puerto Rico, it is shoeboxes, not shoes that are used for the tradition. Little ones take grass from the garden and put it in shoeboxes under their beds on January 6 for the camels the Three Wise Men rode. In the morning, they hope to find the box filled with toys and treats.

What if you’ve been naughty?

If you didn’t make the nice list this year, you may find an array of not-so-nice items in your stocking. Across many cultures, including Italy, the UK and the US, a lump of coal is left in the stockings of naughty boys and girls.

Using coal as an anti-present was thought to have originated in the mid-19th century when many homes were heated by a coal fire. As such, Santa would have simply grabbed a nearby lump to put into the stocking.

Another theory is that the idea came from Charles Dickens’s 1843 novella A Christmas Carol, in which Ebenezer Scrooge wouldn’t even give Bob Cratchit a single lump of coal to heat his freezing office.

Gift ideas for her

Matryoshka doll pouch

This hand-embroidered velvet pouch by Powder Design is festive enough to give at Christmas and versatile enough to be used the whole year round.


Christmas candle

This single-wick candle will fit perfectly in a stocking and the fresh pine, cinnamon and marshmallow scent will fill the home with a festive fragrance.


Holiday hair clips

This three-piece Pinksettia hair clip set by Kitsch is handy to pop into any bag.


Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream

The ultra-light cream works for all skin types and can be used morning and night.


Crown dish

This versatile brass-finished catchall dish can be placed on a dresser to hold make-up or cosmetics, or in the hallway for loose change and house keys.


Gift ideas for him

Pill organiser

Perfect for those who travel a lot, or who simply need to keep track of their daily vitamins or medication, this Tidyard organiser sorts weekly supplements.


Patterned pyjama shorts

Thanks to their colourful old-school MTV logo, these pyjama shorts could double as beachwear, too.


Bento box

If packed lunches have become a myriad of Tupperware boxes and sandwich bags, bring everything under control with this Binostar stainless steel bento box.


Small wooden tray

Made from mango wood, this minimalist tray is the perfect bedside mini-storage for loose coins, ear pods, watches and much more.


Crew neck T-shirt

Available in 22 colours, a simple cotton crew neck T-shirt is a staple for any man’s wardrobe.


Gift ideas for children

Gingerbread house mug

As part of Zara Home's children’s Christmas collection, this stoneware mug in the shape of a gingerbread house is simply crying out to be filled with hot chocolate.


Bubble gun

Available in an array of colours, this bubble gun by Mumuso has 23 holes to create lashings of bubbles.


Storybook projector

Perfect for little ones, this projector by Mideer contains images of 11 traditional fairytales on discs that slide into the projector, along with an accompanying book. It also doubles as a nightlight.


Hot chocolate bomb

Made from luxury Belgian chocolate, children will love watching the mini marshmallows pop out when hot milk is poured over them.

Dh25 each,

Mini bonsai grass head

This fun and educational gift from FDTY is perfect for children of all ages. Simply water these little characters and watch the grass grow. Hair trimming optional.

Dh49.89 each,

Updated: November 21, 2023, 4:03 AM