My sister wrote a beautiful, thoughtful piece about stockings the other day. When I was home last week I took a closer look at those stockings and they started me thinking.
In my family, gifts from our parents were opened on Christmas eve. Then we bundled into the car and drove across town to sing in the midnight service at the church where we went to school. For most of the ceremony we sat in the balcony with our schoolchums/choirmembers. It was always a gorgeous service; I remember blurring my eyes to look at the enormous Christmas trees at the front of the church, all covered in white lights and white and gold ornaments. But the very end of the service was the truly memorable part. All the lights in the church were turned off except for the glowing trees, and all of us in the school choir stood in the dark at the perimeters of the church while we sang Silent Night, first in English, then in German, a capella. Then the adult choir members proceeded into the church, each choirmember carrying a single candle as they formed the shape of a cross down the center and front aisles of the church. We sang Glory to God the Angels Sang, and the sopranos of the adult choir sang a breath-taking descant that inevitably brought me to tears. Once the two songs were finished a hush fell across the entire church, and we were all very still, not wanting to end that amazing moment. I looked forward to that service and that lovely tradition every year as a child.
I seem to recall that we opened gifts on Christmas eve because our own church had its services on Christmas morning, so Christmas eve was really the only time available for the family to spend together. But I secretly suspect that my parents didn't want us waking them at some unreasonable hour on Christmas morning. After all, for a number of years my schoolbus arrived at 6:30 am, and I still remember waking on Saturdays and turning on TV only to find the colored bars and music greeting me from the screen - it was still too early for cartoons!
Gifts from our sisters (we are five girls in my family) were always placed in our stockings for Christmas morning. There was no waiting when it came to stockings - they were fair game the moment you woke. And there were always lots of candy and Hershey's kisses (my favorite) in the toes of the stockings once the gifts had been opened.
Here they are, hung above the fireplace at my parents' house. I can't believe Mom let us play with our stockings when we were little! We had an elaborate Santa game that involved filling the stockings with things found around the house. I recall cramming a lot of small toys into each stocking until they were stuffed and bulging, and I don't think we did it very gently.
I've blurred the beautifully embroidered names to preserve privacy for everyone, and the stockings for the two youngest grandchildren are not quite finished yet. But I think they look so nice hung together like this.