Christmas is a time of lovely, heart-warming traditions like hanging stockings by the chimney with care, in the hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there…etc etc
All sounds very charming, right?
But this one isn’t all sweetness and light, in fact, there’s quite a dark history.
One thing we have well and truly glossed over, is how the stocking-hanging/gift-stuffing tradition started on the very same night that Saint Nicholas became, wait for it, the patron saint of prostitutes.
I thought it would have been Saint John but that shows my very limited religious education.
Back in the day – about 3rd or the 4th century – unmarried women were destined to become prostitutes.
Girls from poor families were more likely to find themselves facing some panting toothless fat man or spotty adolescent waving a wad of clinking and demanding – ahem – satisfaction, because their families couldn’t afford the dowries that guarantee them the delightful outcome of being married off in a loveless arrangement with as much sentimentality as a chest of drawers being sold on Gumtree.
Price right? Job done.
If your father had no money, prostitution it was for you.
St Nicholas heard about some formerly wealthy girls whose father had lost all his money, and decided to save them (apparently the girls who were born poor didn’t warrant similar sympathy, just the ones who had once been rich – so perhaps St Nick should more correctly be referred to as the patron saint of private-school educated prostitutes).
The town knew the father was a proud man (and pride in bankruptcy has now become a key competency for US Presidential candidates so this guy was ahead of his time) and wouldn’t accept any charity (I bet he would have if it was him facing the trick-turning future).
So the local bishop – who later became Saint Nicholas – apparently threw some gold through an open window of the proud man’s house, where it fell into the stockings that had been hung by the fire to dry overnight.
Hey presto. No prostitution for the girls and a dandy tradition for us to put in children’s poems.
Nowadays, the stockings have become more substantial affairs and you can no longer get away with just putting an orange in as earlier tradition dictates. The ball of orange meant to symbolise the original pieces of gold placed into a young woman’s underwear by a passing man of the cloth.
(Ok, maybe a Terry’s Chocolate Orange – almost equal to breakfast booze as my very favourite part of Christmas – could pass, but not an actual piece of citrus fruit.)
In theory, the gift from Santa is put in the stocking, and family gifts are under the tree. That also seems to have fallen away.
In our household, the tradition has morphed into the stockings being filled with small gifts which are intended to buy the adults in the house an additional ten minutes of sleep – or at very least, enough time for the coffee maker to warm up and start performing its valuable role in protecting the children from the cantankerous maternal parent.
But the great news for my children is that the stockings will now come with a bonus
lecture about our good fortune for having been born in a country and an era where we don’t sell human beings anymore.
Love, Mary x