Many of us will have hung stockings as children for Father Christmas to fill but they were probably far larger than the socks which originally were used. It’s strange to think that 170 years ago no child would have put out a stocking and Father Christmas wouldn’t even be heard of. In fact Santa Claus did not become established until the 1870s. The appearance of the gift giver during the age of Queen Victoria marked the move from the Christmas season being one purely about excesses of food, drink and revelry to being a time for children. Possibly the most famous story to capture what we think of a Victorian Christmas, “A Christmas Carol” makes no mention of Father Christmas or even gift giving. Indeed the focus of the day for the Cratchetts is the meal and a rare opportunity for the family to be together.
Across Europe other traditions existed although they nearly all focussed on the filling of ahoes or stockings. In Holland and Belgium children left their clogs or shoes filled with straw for St. Nicholas’s white horse. In the morning if they were good they would find their shoes filled with sweets.