Then and Now: The Evolution of the Christmas Stocking

One of the most recognizable Christmas symbols are the large, colorful, oversized stockings hung by the fireplace, stuffed with goodies and ready to open on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. For many families, stockings are as much a part of the Christmas holiday as trees, egg nog and lights draped around the house. But for all their popularity, many people don’t know the history behind this famous symbol of holiday cheer.

The History of the Christmas Stocking

It’s not clear when hanging stockings became a Christmas tradition, but it can be dated back to as early as 1823, from the famous poem Twas the Night Before Christmas, with the line “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care.”

According to legend, the tradition of hanging Christmas stockings comes from the fourth century and involves the man Santa Claus is based off, St. Nicholas. While passing through a town, Nicholas heard of a man who was grieving the loss of his wife, as well as his poor fortune, unable to pay a dowry for his three daughters’ potential suitors. Upon hearing the news, legend states Nicholas sneaked in to the man’s home — or climbed down the chimney — and dropped gold coins in the daughters’ stockings, which were hanging by the fireplace to dry. The poor man, too proud to accept donations, could pay dowries for his daughters.

As the story spread, families began putting gifts in stockings to mimic receiving good gifts from Santa Claus.

In another version of the story, gold balls were placed in the stockings. This turned into the tradition of putting oranges in stockings, which resemble gold but are much more affordable to the general public.

The tradition of putting coal in stockings comes from Italy, where La Befana, an elderly woman who is said to be searching for the three wise men and baby Jesus, left candy for the nice children and coal or dark candy for the naughty children on her travels.

Modern-Day Uses of the Christmas Stocking

While the legend may have started centuries ago, stockings still play an important role in the holiday — and especially for retailers.

With families looking to fill stockings with gadgets and gizmos aplenty, retailers have an opportunity to make additional sales. Some possibilities include:

  • Placing stocking stuffers near the points of purchase to increase sales
  • Using visual merchandising to creatively advertise where stocking stuffers are located within the store
  • Upselling more expensive items, which may have been ignored at other times of the year
  • Bundling items together, to market several products at once

Choosing the Right Stocking Stuffer

While stocking stuffers offer an opportunity for retailers, it’s important to choose the right items to promote. Stocking stuffers should generally be small and inexpensive. They can be humorous or practical, but they should be easy for consumers to grab. And since the idea is to sell multiples, make sure to have plenty of inventory on hand.

In addition, there is the possibility of selling Christmas stocking stuffers online either as add-ons or on their own. For example, Amazon offers Christmas stocking stuffers through its website both as individual items or add-ons depending on how much the consumer is purchasing.

Capitalize on Tradition

Understanding the evolving Christmas traditions can make or break a store’s winter period. Learn advanced business concepts, like how to capitalize on tradition to improve sales, from programs like Point Park University’s online MBA. The program is tailored to help students balance their life and education with a fully online curriculum, and rigorous classes will prepare graduates to find effective solutions to real-world problems. Courses are taught by experienced faculty members with industry experience, so students learn relevant, practical skills that can immediately be applied.

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