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Why Do We Gift Socks at Christmas?

Christmas stockings illustration from the December 1897 issue of St. Nicholas magazine.

Every Christmas season at Cute But Crazy Socks seems busier than the one before it, and sometimes we just have to ask ourselves: what is it about Christmas and socks? There must be a reason giving socks at Christmas is such a popular tradition, not to mention the connection between socks and Christmas stockings. So why do the holidays always put us in mind of socks? We have a few theories.

Children near a fireplace hang Christmas stockings in an illustration from A Summer at Grandma’s, published by Homewood Publishing Company in 1902.

Winter is Sock Weather

For starters, Christmas takes place during the coldest part of the year, at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. When it is cold outside you are more likely to be spending your days in socks, and you are probably wearing out a pair or two in the process. What could be a more practical Christmas gift than a few new, cozy pairs of socks to last you through the rest of the winter?

Winter also means our socks are getting outside and sometimes getting soaking wet and dirty with rain, snow or mud. We usually fix this by sending them on a trip through the washer and dryer, but for delicate socks like those made of wool, we hang our socks up to dry (around the fireplace perhaps) and end up with a scene that looks a lot like how our ancestors probably dried their socks in the winter! Socks hung up to dry also bear a strong resemblance to Christmas stockings, a sock tradition that has been around for centuries.

Civil War soldiers are excited to receive socks as Christmas gifts in this illustration from Harper's Weekly, January 4, 1862

The Origin of the Christmas Stocking

As the story goes, the Christmas stocking goes all the way back to Saint Nicholas. Back then he was just Nicholas of Myra, a wealthy but generous priest living in the city while it was part of the Roman Empire, around A.D. 300. Nicholas was known for his good deeds and the generous gifts he bestowed on the people of Myra, especially the children.

The Christmas stocking myth tells of a poor widower with three daughters for whom he could not afford dowries. Back then, this meant they probably wouldn't get married and might even have to turn to prostitution. Taking pity on them, Nicholas came into their house one night while they slept and found their stockings hung up to dry. He filled them with gold coins, plenty for the daughters to afford a dowry. This and other stories of Saint Nick's generosity led to his legend growing and changing, and within a few centuries of his death his feast day became commonly celebrated on December 6 throughout Christian Europe. Eventually these traditions came to America and morphed into the Santa Claus we know today, while celebrations including Santa moved from December 6 to December 25. 

For many children, gifts from Santa were placed in their actual socks which they hung by the fireplace, or sometimes Santa would put presents in their shoes! Dutch children would fill their clogs with hay and carrots for Sinterklaas's (another of Saint Nicholas's nicknames) horse or reindeer to eat, which would then be replaced with presents.

By the late 1800s, Victorians were making decorations and presents a focus of Christmas, and stockings were handmade or purchased just for holding Christmas gifts. These stockings were sometimes ornately decorated and larger than a typical sock, which kids loved because it meant more presents could fit inside. Popular stocking stuffers included candy and nuts, small toys, oranges and of course, socks!

Children play with Christmas presents from their Christmas stockings beside a fireplace

Stuffing Stockings with Socks

Have you ever tried to knit a pair of socks? Not only is it time consuming, it can also be expensive if you are using high-quality materials. Before socks were commercially manufactured, people had to hand knit each and every pair, making a new pair of cozy socks at Christmas time a wonderful treat.

Even though it is a lot easier to give socks as gifts these days, that doesn't have to make them any less special. Fun socks with designs that remind you of a friend or family member make great Christmas gift and easy, inexpensive stocking stuffers. As a gift, socks are practical, popular and easy to personalize. So why not fill their stockings with even more stockings, AKA socks? 'Tis the season!

At Cute But Crazy, we make sock buying simple at the holidays. Shop our collection of new socks to see our most recently added styles, or check out our bestsellers to see the socks that, like Santa Claus and the Christmas stocking, have stood the test of time!

Images from top to bottom:

Christmas stockings illustration from the December 1897 issue of St. Nicholas magazine.

Hanging Christmas Stockings, an illustration from A Summer at Grandma’s, published by Homewood Publishing Company in 1902.

Christmas Boxes in Camp – Christmas, 1861, Winslow Homer, from "Harper's Weekly," Vol. VI, published January 4, 1862

Thomas Nast illustration from "A Visit from St. Nicholas," published by McLoughlin Bros, 1869.

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