Oh, I see! moments
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Ten Christmas Traditions Stuffed in Stockings ‘n Shoes

by Janine Boylan on December 24, 2012

Christmas stocking showing Christmas traditions in different cultures

American Christmas stocking
© Janine Boylan

How Different Cultures Fill ‘Em Up 

Every Christmas morning, plump velvet stockings line our hearth. And Christmas tradition dictates that each stocking has a tangerine and a brand new penny in it.

Getting the Hang of  Stockings and Shoes

According to legend, the Christmas stocking originated when three impoverished girls hung their freshly-washed socks by the fire to dry. Walking by their home that evening, Saint Nicholas saw the stockings, and, feeling pity for the girls, secretly filled each sock with a generous bag of gold. The gold changed the lives of the girls forever.

Shoe stuffed with gifts representing Christmas traditions of different cultures

Traditional gifts in a modern shoe
© Thinkstock

Today, oranges or tangerines symbolize the bags of gold. I never thought too much about this until the first Christmas with my husband. Finding his tangerine, he said, “What’s this for?”

A basic Oh, I see moment—not everyone has the same traditions around stockings! In fact, in many different cultures, the shoe is the item of choice for stuffing.

Though the concept of giving is common across cultures, timing and traditions differ, bringing a true gift, the gift of cultural diversity, to our world.

Traditions Across Different Cultures

Just take a look at how variations of holiday stocking and shoe traditions abound worldwide:

  1. United Kingdom  Stockings are hung on the mantle or from beds in order to catch the coins that Father Christmas drops down the chimney. If there are no stockings, the money will be lost.
  2. Ecuador Some children tuck Christmas lists into their shoes. The lists are replaced by Papa Noel with new shoes and presents.
  3. France French children neatly arrange their shoes in front of the fireplace on Christmas Eve. Père Noël comes during the night and fills the shoes with candy and toys. In anticipation, wooden renditions of Père Noël often grace the doors of homes in Southern France.
    Wooden Pere Noel by a French doorway, showing Christmas traditions of different cultures

    Wooden Père Noël in a Provence village
    © Sheron Long

  4. Slovak Republic St. Nicholas leaves candy and fruit in children’s shoes. Unruly children find coal.
  5. Hungary Children set boots in the window. Mekulash, the Hungarian Santa, fills well-behaved children’s boots with fruit, nuts, and chocolate. Misbehaving children receive a stick or switch. Apparently few children are perfect: many children find their boots have both candy and a switch.
  6. Iceland During the Christmas season, children leave their shoes on the windowsill. Thirteen mythical elves called Jolasveinar visit one at a time over thirteen days to leave gifts in the shoes of the good children. Bad children receive potatoes!
    A window in Europe showing Christmas traditions in different cultures

    A European window ready for Christmas boots
    © Thinkstock

  7. China  Although Christmas is not widely celebrated in China, some children hang muslin stockings for Dun Che Lao Ren, Old Man Christmas, to fill.
  8. Italy Broom-riding La Befana visits Italian children and delivers toys, fruit, and candy. Disobedient children find coal-filled shoes instead.
    La Befana showing Christmas traditions in different cultures

    La Befana fills children’s shoes in Italy
    © Thinkstock

  9. Netherlands Children fill their wooden shoes with hay and carrots for St. Nicholas’s horse. He exchanges their offerings with toys and candy.
  10. Spain Children leave their shoes near the door, fireplace, or balcony for the Wise Men on Three Kings Day. Children may leave hay for the camels as well. In the morning, the children’s shoes are stuffed with toys and candy.

 And What About That “Naughty or Nice” Idea?

Not only does the custom of shoes or stockings vary in different cultures, but also whether or not the stuffings reflect that concept of “naughty or nice”—coal and switches on the naughty side; toys and candy on the nice.

If you participate in Christmas customs, do you follow the tradition of “naughty or nice”? Take our reader poll and let us know what you’re expecting this year.

Silly Santas, showing Christmas traditions in different cultures

Santas bearing trees
© Sheron Long




If poll does not display, take it here.

VIA Museum of Science and Industry

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