It’s time to talk stockings. The Christmas kind. I don’t know what kind of stocking you had as a kid – I’m hoping it’s something you did leave behind in childhood, because I’m kind of shocked by the knowledge that some adults still play the Christmas stocking game. I know it’s part of the whole joyful extravaganza, but I still find the thought of grown adults choosing this way to express themselves rather distasteful. If Christmas has to be at all, then yes, it is for children.
We used to have an old pair of my mum’s denier tights, cut in two to give us one stocking each. The sort of stocking you would traditionally use as a robbers’ mask – and we did employ them to such effect before we placed them on the end of our bed in hopeful anticipation. I don’t mean that we went out robbing – just that, like all good packaging material, the stocking had its place in the whole gift giving process.
Other children I knew had pillow cases – that seemed excessively greedy and I always hoped Santa wouldn’t fill them – but yet others put up knitted socks and actually hung them from mantle pieces in their sitting room. The spectrum of Santa gift receptacle sizing was important to me as a five year old. Before you went to school, family tradition was all. But that first Christmas after starting school, you looked at everything slightly differently. You’d discovered that not all Christmases are the same and it’s natural to compare.
That first school Christmas was also my first experience of a Christmas party. We went to a children’s Christmas party held at a hall at my dad’s place of work. We dressed up for it. I was in a purple velvet dress with patent leather shoes, I won’t say proudly because I hated the outfit, but I was proud of my accessory. I had a beautiful white fur hand muff. It might have been fake fur, most probably was, but it felt wonderful and I was incredibly proud of it. Of course when we arrived at the party we had to take off our coats, and leave them in a room – along with the muff. That’s the last I ever saw of it. Someone (but I doubt they were wearing a stocking mask) robbed my muff from my first Christmas Party. That might indeed have been a warning to me of Christmases to come! But at the time it was just an isolated incident which more than ruined the event for me. I went home, understandably, in tears. I knew it wasn’t my fault but I also knew Santa wouldn’t be replacing it for me.
So other people and Christmases didn’t mix. It was best to stay with the family for the duration. Don’t compare. Don’t share. Stay safe. At least at that time I was safe in my family. That gift was to be robbed from me along with the muff all too soon.
But for that Christmas at least, we went through our family ritual. We put out the goodies for Santa. We hung our stockings at the end of the bed. They lay there looking thin and pointless. Having been the victim of a crime there was no longer any joy in pulling mine over my head. And then we went to bed.
Christmas Eve is when you first learn about insomnia. About how hard it can be just to get to sleep. And about how, miraculously, you can’t control sleep; it comes when it wants – and when it is least wanted. Somehow, I always fell asleep eventually, just after the moment when I was convinced I was never going to fall asleep, could hear Santa on the roof, and was about to lose the chance of presents because ‘good girls’ would be asleep and since, by definition, I wasn’t asleep, I must not be a ‘good girl.’
For years I wondered how it was that my parents managed to fill my stocking without waking me. It was much later that I realised they pulled a switch on us. My mum cut up two pairs of tights and while were tossing and turning, waiting for sleep, they were downstairs filling the stockings to bursting point. Then all they had to do was creep in, switch the stockings and all would be fine.
It must have been tense though, in the dark, hoping we’d not hidden the empty stocking. But then I suppose they had previous with the tooth fairy. And no child with any wit would hide their stocking under their pillow – they want to make things easy for Santa after all! Is it comforting to know people can sneak into your room while you’re asleep? Not really. There came a time when that was my biggest fear – and for justifiable reasons – but that’s not a Christmas story so I’ll spare you it here.
Let’s look to the positives. Our family stockings always had a clementine and an apple in the bottom, at the toe. This was the day before ‘stocking fillers’ became fiercely marketed as a commodity in their own right. I note that these days ‘stocking fillers’ may be £5 or even ‘under £10’ per item. I hate to think how much money is sunk into a stocking for today’s child.
Finding a filled stocking at the foot of your bed is great as a child, of course it is, and it has a useful function in that even if the kid (as I used to) wakes around four or five o’clock, it can really slow them down and give parents a lie in till at least 7am. Firstly the child is busy playing and eating the goodies and secondly if they are old enough to tell the time, they know full well that running in and telling their parents that Santa has been much before 6 or 7 am is likely to meet with a poor response. At least that was the case in our house. So stockings pass the time and act as a bribe against an early morning. But to spend the best part of £50 per kid per stocking as one could easily do these days. That seems ludicrous.
Back to my childhood stocking. I can’t remember exactly what was in it of course, it’s all part of the excited blur. But there generally would be some chocolate, maybe a small selection box, which filled quite a bit of stocking. Then probably some pens and a colouring book. Possibly even a real book. This can all take up a deal of space.
I remember once getting a Pez sweet dispenser that kept me busy for ages. I remember on occasion – like with the Pippin Fort – getting a bigger present which just wouldn’t fit in the stocking – which was on the bed along side it. I almost missed it in the first excitement of feeling for the stocking in the dark! But of course the extra, oversized gift set a precedent. The next year I remembered and hoped that there would be something as well as the stocking. Thus aspirational little consumers are made. Of course there is then the disappointment that ‘this year’ there’s no big unexpected extra. Then the guilt starts. Feeling guilty for feeling disappointed. Wondering if it’s because you haven’t been ‘good’ enough that year. No child knows what being good really is. On a moment by moment basis maybe, but over a year? Racking your childish memory to think what it might be that you did that was wrong – wondering if your sibling got more than you because they were good and you weren’t. Ah, the wheels are starting to come off the Christmas experience already and I’m only 6.
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An advent calendar of memories that are not for the faint-hearted.