The tradition of hanging stockings at Christmas has a few origin stories. The most popular one actually involves the historical Saint Nicholas, so we’ll go over that one first.
The story goes that Saint Nicholas happened upon a poor man with three beautiful daughters. The old man was concerned about his daughters’ welfare after he died since he was poor and couldn’t afford to marry any of them off to proper gentleman. If they couldn’t get married, they might become prostitutes. Saint Nicholas knew that the old man was too proud to accept charity, so in the cover of night, he threw three bags of gold into an open window of the poor man’s house. One of the bags of gold fell into a stocking set by the fire. In the morning, the poor man found the gold and his daughters were all able to get married.
In other regions, the stocking tradition is said to stem from Odin and the food that would be left for his 8-legged horse, Sleipnir, in the shoes of home’s occupants. Odin would take the carrots and hay and whatever and leave presents and candy in their place. But I don’t think I’d want to eat candy from a shoe that was just emptied of horse food.
So I’m going to believe that the stocking tradition came from St. Nick himself and his efforts to prevent pretty girls from becoming prostitutes, even though I’m a fan of Odin too. I’m just a sucker for a story that ends well.
But what about the origin of the word “stocking”? Where did that come from?
As it happens, we have trees to thank for stockings. The root of stocking is “stock”, which is an Old English word (stocu) for sleeve that is related to a very similar Old English word (stocc) for log or trunk. This is probably because legs look a bit like tree trunks. More so if you are an Ent from Lord of the Rings or Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. As root words go, “stock” also went on to be used in stockades, which as almost nothing to do with stockings, but now you know the connection.
So as we get closer to Christmas day, don’t forget to hang up your leg-sleeve so you can avoid a life of prostitution! Maybe you could even throw a carrot in there for good luck. If Odin’s 8-legged horse doesn’t want it, maybe Santa’s reindeer will.