USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘stockings’
Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas presents & Christmas stockings tradition

My mother has established a very specific way that we do Christmas presents and stockings in our family and it goes as follows:

Stockings are opened on Christmas morning only with our immediate family (extended family waiting in another room) and takes place sitting on my parents’ bed in our pajamas. We would then go downstairs for the rest of the presents.

As young children, we would receive one big gift from “Santa” that was left unwrapped under our fireplace, and the rest of the presents were found under the tree and were addressed from the respective person who bought them (Dad, Mom, Grandma etc.)

As older adults, we still open presents but we open a couple from immediate family members at Christmas Eve dinner and the rest Christmas morning, without an unwrapped gift from Santa.

 

 

Background: Tamara has lived her entire life in Southern California and moved her family to Malibu in 2001. She is married and has two children.

Context: My mom started this tradition in our family once me and my brother were both born, and we still do it to this day on Christmas. I asked my mom if she came up with the tradition on her own last weekend while we were at a family dinner and she said she started it when she had kids.

Analysis: As a kid, I thought this was customary, and everyone who celebrated Christmas did it in the same way my family did. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized every family had their own unique Christmas traditions, and how much I appreciated my own. This tradition that my mom started years ago is something I will definitely carry on when I have a family of my own, and I am excited at the idea of adapting it in my own way, while continuing my mother’s ritual.

Childhood
Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Stockings

Story

This informant is a friend of mine from back home who happened to be in town for a visit a few weeks.  I started by asking him if he had any family traditions that may have been in the family for a while.  After a bit of thinking he mentioned his Christmas stockings that his grandma had made for him and his brother, which I then realized I had seen before.  He said dating back far in the past (he didn’t know the origin) the grandmothers on his mother’s side of the family have always sewed the Christmas stockings.  Each stocking is sewed with items chosen by each respective grandmother for specific reason.  Some items represent past events and some hopeful mementos for the future.  He happened to be born in Germany when his parents lived there for a short three years early in their marriage, so there is a Beer stein on his stocking.  There is also a tennis racket, basketball, and soccer ball signifying his (hopefully) future success in sports.  Each stocking is about 18-20 inches tall and all red with a white top.  He said the stocking has become somewhat of a family superstition and they believe it has influence on the child’s future when it’s sewed.

 

Analysis: After listening to my informant’s story it was clear to me the significance of Christmas and religion in their family’s life and history.  It wasn’t clear whether or not the stockings were initially intended to be “fortune telling” (for lack of a better word) because my informant didn’t know how the tradition started, but it was interesting to me that such an important superstition ended up in the hands of a matriarch in such a patriarchal society.

Customs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Danish-American Christmas Stockings

The informant grew up in Northern California and has two parents who were born in Denmark.  The informant explains that his Danish parents continues many traditions from Denmark today. The informant details his family’s Danish style stockings used for Christmas at his home in San Francisco.  The informant explains that he learned this tradition from his Danish parents and remembers partaking in it since he was a little kid.  The tradition has sentimental value as it has been something he has done with his family for many years.

The informant explains that for his Danish-American family instead of hanging stockings over the fireplace, similar to most American families, his family members place their shoes outside and wait for Santa to fill their shoes with presents and goodies.  The informant believes that this Danish tradition originated because back a long time ago Danish people wore wooden clogs and somehow the tradition began where the clogs served as stockings.

I find the informant’s story of the Danish-American traditions rather intriguing as you see his family adapting part of the traditions of Christmas.  Placing the toys and gifts into shoes today and supposedly wooden clogs in the past in Denmark gives some insight into the type of clothing and attire worn in Denmark earlier in history.  This information can be quite helpful when analyzing the culture of that country.  It is also cool to know that his parents have passed that tradition on to their children and it will be interesting to see if the informant (the child) and his brother decide to continue those traditions.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

German Tradition: Saint Nikolaus Day

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “So Saint Nikolaus Day is on the 6th of December. And that is just Germany though, and I’m not sure about other European countries.  I know that for example, people in Spain do it on the 6th of January.  I don’t know why we choose that date, I’m sure it has some religious background, as everything in that time. But I don’t know why we celebrate it in December and not January.  Maybe it is to get people excited for Christmas. It’s kind of the beginning, like the very first Christmas event.  So when St. Nikolaus Day arrives, everybody is getting into the Christmas mood. And it somehow commences the Christmas time. So on the evening of the 5th of December, children have to clean their shoes, like their boots, and place them on the windowsill. But only very clean shoes are allowed to be on there.”

Interviewer: “And that is to show that the children are good children?”

Informant: “Well yeah, that is part of it. And you clean you shoes to ask St. Nikolaus to put small treats inside, overnight. So on the 5th of December, children place their shoes there and go to bed. And on the 6th in the morning, they wake up and check their boots to see if something has been put in there. Usually, if the children have behaved fine over the year, St. Nikolaus brings treats. But they are special treats… like walnuts, and also oranges, the small ones… clementines? And also some chocolate stuff.  And if you are bad, you would get sticks and stuff. I don’t know, I never had that. But they have a special name… a rod? And that would be to express that the child was misbehaving.  And St. Nikolaus Day is only for children.  Oh! And you can put spices on the oranges, like cinnamon or nutmeg? And it is arranged in small stars, like they put stars on the oranges.  And usually the boots are supposed to be red boots.”

Interviewer: “Why red?”

Informant: ” I have no idea. Probably the same reason… that the Christmas man… how is he called?”

Interviewer: “Santa Claus.”

Informant: “Santa Claus! Right. Because he is wearing a red coat.”

Analysis:

Saint Nikolaus Day is very similar to the tradition we have in America of hanging stockings over the fireplaces to get little gifts from Santa Claus.  Much like our stocking tradition, Saint Nikolaus Day puts a high emphasis on rewarding good children and punishing bad children.  In both traditions, good children receive gifts for their good behavior and bad children receive something that is symbolic of their naughty behavior such as coal in American tradition or a rod, which is used to spank bad children, in German tradition.  Saint Nikolaus is essentially the German version of Santa Claus.

In addition to what my informant told me, I also found some more interesting information on the legend in my research.  Saint Nikolaus, or Saint Nicholas as he is commonly called, was known to leave coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him.  Sometimes a Saint Nikolaus impersonator would visit children at their school or at their home and ask them if they had been good, helpful, and polite.  The impersonator would then check his golden book to for the child’s record to see if they were right.  This is much like our idea that Santa Claus is ‘making a list, checking it twice, and he’s gonna find out who’s naught and nice’.  During the interview I asked if she knew about the Krampus, which is a demon who accompanies Saint Nikolaus and takes away naughty children to eat them for Christmas dinner.  She said she had never heard of the Krampus before.  I thought this was odd because I was sure that the Krampus was a German legend, but I was only half right.  The Krampus is legend found in the Alpine regions of Europe such as Austria and has it’s roots in Germanic folklore, which is why I thought the Krampus was a part of German tradition.

In my research I was not able to determine why the 6th of December is the chosen date for Saint Nikolaus Day, but I agree with what my informant said about Saint Nikolaus Day marking the start of the Christmas season.  In America we seem to start Christmas season the day after Thanksgiving, because this is when people generally start shopping for Christmas gifts.  I do not know why Saint Nikolaus Day is done earlier than Americans version of the day, which is on Christmas Day when children open their stockings that they had set out the night before on December 24th.  However I agree with her in that Saint Nikolaus Day is a great way to start of the Christmas spirit and get into the gift giving mood.

My informant was born in 1992 Hamburg, Germany.  She studied at USC from 2010-2011 before moving to Brussels, Belgium to study international policy planning for her undergraduate degree.  She lives part time in Brussels, Belgium and part time in her hometown Hamburg, Germany.

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