Christmas Traditions

Page 4

Here’s what you’ll find on this fourth page:



Stockings – Christmas Stockings

The origin of this tradition is a bit fuzzy. And darn the history books for not recording every stocking detail for us.

The prevailing theory ties back to Saint Nicholas – and yes, there really was a Saint Nicholas. Here’s the story of Nicholas and the Three Maidens . . .

“Nicholas was the son of wealthy parents who died while he was a child. Despite the insecurity of being an orphan, he selflessly wanted to share this wealth with those in need. In those times, like today, wealth and poverty lived side by side.

Nicholas was aware of a man who had three teenage daughters. The family was so poor they could not fill their bellies. And, without money for a dowry, there was no way the girls would ever find a husband. Faced with starvation, their only option would be prostitution.

Nicholas, wishing to remain anonymous, one night tossed a bag of gold through the window of their house. When the man awoke the next morning, there it was! He thanked God for his good fortune. Thus, the oldest daughter was able to marry. A little while later, Holy Nicholas repeated the act for the second daughter.

By now the father wanted to know who was behind this magnificent act. The night he heard the third bag of gold hit the floor beneath his window, he rushed out and caught up with the fleeing Nicholas. The saint swore him to secrecy, but eventually the story got out.”

So where do the stockings come into the picture? Some versions of the story have Nicholas tossing the bag of gold down the chimney where if fell into a stocking hung there to dry.

Another variation has Nicholas tossing three small bags of gold through the window in the same night. The gold landed in three stockings – or shoes – the daughters had by the fire to dry. When they awoke the next morning they were delighted to find enough gold for them to get married.

And so it is that children still hang up their stockings, and often find – in the toe – a tangerine to represent a nugget of gold.


I’ve collected many Christmas wonders for you.
Olde-time stories, more Christmas traditions,
crafts and recipes, games for kids of all ages . . .


It seems probable that the Germans deserve credit once again for this Christmas tradition. Although the inventor’s name has been lost to history, the invention dates back to the early 17th century.

Das Lametta – the German name for tinsel – is a diminutive form of the Italian word lama, meaning blade.

The composition of tinsel has changed over the years.

At first it was made out of silver which had a beautiful sparkle. The silver was pressed into very thin strips by machines. Trouble was that silver tarnished too easily especially when exposed to the smoke from the candles on the trees.

Next a composition of pewter – a tin alloy – was used to eliminate the tarnishing.

The challenge in manufacturing is getting a compound that shimmers and sparkles in the lights, is thin enough to drape nicely over the branches, will stay in place, safe from fire and everything else, and yet is strong enough to not break easily and be usable year after year. A tall order!

Some U.S. patents for tinsel I found gave the pros and cons of various inventions. For example, a metal foil of pure tin breaks too easily and doesn’t drape well. All aluminum foil – while cost effective – is too stiff, flimsy, and is easily blown off the tree by small drafts – even by someone walking past the tree.

There were also lead-based foils with a coating of tin or aluminum on each side. This tinsel possessed all the desired qualities – including cost effective to make – but it also had a toxicity danger. When used repeatedly the tin coating wears off from abrasion exposing the lead. This presents an unacceptable danger to children.

Then in 1969 a patent was granted for plastic tinsel. They used several layers of different synthetic polymers and resins, with varying degrees of iridescent qualities. When “pressed” or rolled together the end result was acceptable. And it is also safe from fire and of course, no lead.

A 1988 patent developed another metal foil combination: A single-ply metal alloy foil. This foil is about 2.5% tin-antimony alloy by weight with the rest being tin. It claims to have all the desired characteristics of the original silver tinsel without any of the drawbacks.

Science aside . . . in the U.S. it might be said that tinsel was more popular in the 50s and into the 70s than it is today. But it’s still a big part of decorating the Christmas tree for many families – including our own.

Click Here to read about the Tradition of the Christmas Tree

or Return to the main Traditions page
Be Sociable, Share!