(POSTED: December 8, 2006)
It's hard to believe that the tradition of hanging stockings up for Santa to fill with goodies actually springs from a legend begun some 17 centuries ago.
Nicholas, a son of devout Christian parents living in Turkey, was Bishop to the city of Myra, where he was much loved for his benevolence, particularly by the children.
In those days, as in some parts of the world today, there was a tradition that whenever a woman wanted to marry, her father must produce a dowry, or gifts to give to the bridegroom and his family. A woman without a dowry could not hope to marry.
Nicholas was aware that many in his parish were very poor, and, coming from a wealthy family himself, he often tried to help. One Christmas Eve, as was his custom, he was silently visiting the houses in his parish, making sure each of the children had a gift of some sort.
He had heard that the daughters of a man in the village had no dowry but dearly wished to marry, so when he came to their home, seeing they had left woollen stockings out to dry, he secretly placed enough money in each to ensure their dowry.
Nicholas was much beloved but didn't look at all like the Santa Claus (which means Saint Nicholas) we know today. He would almost certainly have had a brown skin and would have dressed in the clerical garb of the third century but because of his kindness at Christmas, we remember him and the stocking tradition still.
Dutch children put hay and carrots in their shoes for the horse of Sinterklass, or good old Santa Claus, now the patron saint of children but not everyone believes it is Santa who brings presents.
In Sweden it is a kindly gnome called the tomte who lives under the floorboards. And in Mexico, Spain and some parts of France children put out shoes, to be filled by the Three Kings. In northern France children hope they will not be visited by Pere Fouettard -- Father Spanker!
Italian children pray that La Befana will leave them gifts at Epiphany (Jan 6th) but in Greece the Saint of Letters, Agios Vasilis comes, unless you live in the mountains in which case, tiny elves are responsible for leaving you your heart's desire.
The tradition of giving gifts is symbolic of the gifts given to Jesus and of the fact that Jesus himself was a gift to the world.
Source: Lynda Finn