December Men's Room
Whatever became of Christmas stockings?
Somewhere along the holiday way – amid the gold paper that adorns the newest iPhone and the ribbons falling like festive curls from the wireless stereo speaker and the just-too-big-to-wrap mega- box for the 60-inch LED 4K TV – we lost those basic, lovable, low-tech stockings.
You remember the stockings, right? The big, long socks, each with a family member’s name (and the dog’s) sprinkled in glitter – a line of red and green booties dangling from the mantle, held in place by votive candles, thumbtacks, or ashtrays.
Wait – you remember mantles, right? Thumbtacks, yes? And ashtrays?
So simple, those stockings. And so useful, perfect for the stuffer gifts – the mint gum, toothbrushes, mini bottles of mouthwash, and all the other boldface hints for the relative with bad breath. Or, the raisins and sunflower kernels for the one with the disgusting diet, the eye drops and personal tissue packs for the allergy sufferer, and the pen and pad for the most forgetful one in the family.
The legend goes that the stocking tradition started when St. Nicholas went to a destitute family’s house at night and left gold coins in the daughters’ stockings, which were drying by the fire. Some say jolly ol’ St. Nick climbed in by way of the chimney. Others, preferring not to think the beloved saint guilty of breaking and entering, say he merely tossed the coins through an open window – and since his saintliness gave him the throwing accuracy of a Hall of Fame pitcher, the coins landed right in the stockings.
Christmas stockings might be the least expensive of all holiday decorations. Anything will do. You can buy a perfect stocking, sewn of felt and decorated with jingly bells or tiny pine cones powdered in fake snow. Or you can make your own – just raid the bottom drawer of your dresser and snag one of the tube socks you bought on that day, long ago, when you thought about taking up jogging. They’re still brand new.
It seems everybody once hung Christmas stockings, and maybe some still do. But if they’re present at all, they’ve become a mere afterthought to the big commercial buy-buy of the season. In the evolution of the holiday, stockings remain in the amoeba stage, left behind in the nostalgic ooze alongside whole milk for Santa and vinyl recordings by Burl Ives. We’ve moved on in our boundless zeal for high-tech everything: crystalline screens, quantum speed, maximum multitasking, and sports video so hyper-realistic that when an athlete flings sweat, we have to towel off.
Sure, I understand that it’s hard to get excited about digging around in a sock for a navel orange or peppermint stick when we have zippy gadgets that wake us up with a serenade, entertain us all day, and lull us to sleep in anticipation of doing it all over again tomorrow. But if it’s the thought that counts – and indeed it should be – then the Christmas stocking deserves to maintain its foothold in the giving season.
Keep it simple. Keep it small. Keep it sweet.
In a smart world, those saggy socks aren’t such a dumb idea.
Tim Bass is coordinator of UNCW’s bachelor of fine arts program in creative writing.
To view more of illustrator Mark Weber’s work, go to www.markweberart.blogspot.com.