Sunday, December 28, 2008

Stocking stuffers

The idea of a Christmas stocking bulging with valuable, yearned-for items is foreign to me. Throughout December, I see advertisements with an eye-catching starburst containing the words "Great Stocking Stuffer!" for products such as CDs, electric razors, iPods, Wii games, and diamond earrings. This leads me to believe that to much of the world, the determining characteristic of a gift suitable for stocking stuffage is its diminuitive size: if it's small enough to fit in the stocking, it's a stocking stuffer. And a stocking isn't really "stuffed" unless it is filled with multiple items, which by my calculations means that many people spend hundreds of dollars just filling stockings. I am sure that is more than my parents budgeted for each child's entire Christmas bounty.

I've always been of the opinion that every gift should receive the attention and appreciation it deserves. Our family always opened gifts one by one, taking turns, and it is one of my favorite Christmas memories. I loved making signs with each family member's name, and taping them to various seats around the family room before we could divvy up the gifts. Not one box was unwrapped until everyone was sitting in his or her assigned place beside a pile of presents. I enjoyed watching my family members open their gifts almost as much as opening my own. Anticipation is half the fun, after all, so why rush the process? And why put expensive, desirable gifts into a stocking when they could be carefully unwrapped for all to admire?

As a child, our stockings typically contained only three items:

1) An assortment of Christmas goodies. I specifically remember little chocolate-covered marshmallow Santas for some reason.

2) An orange. We were taught that the orange symbolized gratitude for our blessings, because during the Great Depression (or perhaps a war -?-) it was very difficult to acquire a fresh orange, especially during the winter, and so it would have been a very special treat at Christmas.

3) A scroll tied with ribbon. This piece of paper contained a poem, whose rhyming lines provided clues to the whereabouts of our "stocking gift," which was usually the most awesome, or at least too-large-to-wrap, surprise gift. My dad apparently stayed up late typing these poems after we went to bed on Christmas Eve, and reading them was sort of the culmination of our Christmas experience.

As a child, and even now to a lesser degree, I would experience a few moments of melancholy after all the gifts from under the tree were unwrapped, realizing that suddenly Christmas was over. But then I would quickly rejoice upon remembering that our stockings still hung over the fireplace. Not because they were filled with another slew of tiny, meaningless presents, but because there would be an exciting treasure hunt to find that last gift--possibly the one I've been asking for since Halloween!

My new little family tends to keep Holiday spending to a bare minimum. I have only actually stuffed our stockings twice now. Last year my motivation in doing so was mostly to provide the experience for our Japanese exchange student, since my daughter was too young to understand. Filling our stockings remains merely an afterthought as Christmas approaches.

The lack of fanfare surrounding our stockings has inadvertently started a family tradition of our own. I still include the traditionally orange. It comes out of the drawer in the fridge to hang in the toe overnight, then is returned home to the fridge following its moment of glory.

But I also wander around our house on Christmas Eve collecting appropriate items to stuff in our stockings. That's right: things we already own. I have an assortment of cheap little Christmas toys leftover from goodie bags I made for our employees' children one Christmas, so everyone gets a kazoo or a tiny yo-yo with a Santa sticker on it, or a nifty spinning top. Last year, all those dumb little toys went back into the bag with the others, so I was able to give Madelyn some of the same things in her stocking this year. I don't think she even noticed.

I also include some yummy treats. Last year Madelyn got a baggie full of goldfish crackers, and this year a package of yogurt-covered blueberries. She couldn't eat them though, since she'd already brushed her teeth, so back into the Costco box in the cupboard they went. I gave Gary one of the candy bars that he had bought for himself last week, and a package of Simpsons fruit snacks that have been sitting on a table in my office since the movie was released in July 2007, both of which also went directly back onto the candy shelf.

So currently, the stocking extravaganza is more for the expectation of tradition than practical gifts. One day, when we have more disposable income, I wouldn't mind upgrading our stocking experience from "what-do-we-have-lying-around" to providing a few useful or fun, but inexpensive, items that my family members would actually like. Maybe one day I'll even get creative and reintroduce the stocking poems in our family. But I don't think we'll ever be the family with a GPS or platinum bracelet overflowing from our stockings. I love wrapping presents way too much for that!

What are your fun Stocking traditions?

3 comments:

jaeyde said...

My family did stockings and gifts in reverse order. I think my parents looked at stockings as a way of keeping their children, always early to rise on Christmas morning, occupied while they had their morning coffee and finished waking up. We kids were forbidden from waking our parents until a certain hour, which meant by the time they were rolling out of bed, we were already giddy with excitement. Stockings usually contained candy (like bulk hershey's kisses), and small gifts like a deck of cards or a superball, most of which were wrapped. These days stockings contain fewer items, but more appreciated. Like dad's stocking usually contains some gourmet cheese, hidden conspicuously in a paper bag in the fridge until the night before. Mine on the other hand, is more likely to have a fancy candy bar and a $5 gift card for Starbucks or the like. And nowadays we all open them together. Though our habits with presents are much like your's - we take turns, no more than two people opening gifts at a time and often there is a short discussion regarding each gift. Gifts are followed by more coffee and a simple breakfast, often homemade coffee cake or something similarly lacking in preparation time. Christmas dinner is something I look forward to all year, as it is a much smaller and more intimate affair than thanksgiving (family of 4 with 1 or 2 guests versus 4-5 different families) and we eat the ever-loved leg of lamb. :)

Bridget said...

Our tradition is remarkably similar to yours. And I totally agree with you about the change in meaning of "stocking stuffer." We always got granola bars and tic-tacs and other cheapo stuff that my dad had stashed away in his closet all the time. It's just better that way.

guentherfamilynews said...

Stockings are one of my fondest Christmas memories. mom would put them out late at night after Mandi and I went to bed, we were allowed to get up as early as we wanted, as long as we did it together, and open our stockings. We would sneak out, sometimes as early as 4am and grab out stockings. We would then quickly run back to my sisters bed and crawl under the blankets together. Everything in the stockings was always wrapped, so we got to do a lot of unwrapping and it took us a long time. stocking gifts were normally things like socks, chapstick, a little candy, underwear, basically little things we needed with a few tiny extras. I think we always got a Christmas ornament, and maybe a small toy or something. What I remember most was just that it was full of things we needed, and that is was a very special time for just me and my sister. as the years went on we got up later and later, but it was still special to have that time just the two of us. We did stockings at my moms for the kids this year, again they were mostly filled with socks, toothbrush, tooth paste, underwear, and my mom added a few toys for each. I picked out special toothbrush and paste for each of the kids, Malaki got hot wheels and cars while Lillie's was fairy themed. Jereme and I have been getting each of the kids about one gift a piece for Christmas, we don't have a lot of money, so I just take all the needed items and wrap them up so the kids can enjoy them. That is the way my family was too. Our stocking generally max out around $20 a piece, if that... :) we just individually wrap each pair of socks and so on to make it much more fun!

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