Thursday, December 26, 2013

Shirt Box Tops and Works of Art

This Christmas it was our turn to have my parents with us. After dinner on the 25th, my dad asked each of us about childhood Christmas memories. Stockings came up in many of the memories. It was the perfect opportunity for me to validate with my parents some of my own memories.

You see, as a child we had "stockings", but we didn't have stockings. Santa chose to approach our morning treats in a utilitarian fashion, leaving our goodies in various tops and bottoms of department store boxes. Yes, shirt boxes. As with so many family traditions, you don't really question their normalcy - you just roll with it. There was no laying out of a stocking, no selection of its placement in the room, no picking of a perch. When given the go ahead, we four children would fly down the hall, round the corner into the living room and search frantically through the four piles until your eyes landed on what one hoped was "your pile", given it's resemblance to one's whisperings into the fat man's ear at the downtown Foley's.

Years and years this went on and - like so many children - we delighted in the simplicity of our Christmas mornings. Our shirt box tops would hold oranges, chewing gum, a banana - yes, one - and varied nuts in their shells: pecan, brazilian, almond and one little round one that looked like an acorn, filberts I believe. Lordamercy, I left hulling those nuts to New Year's. I couldn't be bothered to tear myself away from my toys for a good week or so. And of course, over time, your shirt box occupants would mingle with another's and eventually there'd be one bowl of nuts, nestled proudly in their shells, on the kitchen counter alongside an orange or two.

There was one year, though, that things changed. One year for Christmas, my grandmother gave to my mom the most beautiful six handmade stockings you would ever see. I can vividly recall their detail in my mind. Little works of art. The DAD stocking had a man sitting in a stuffed armchair, wearing a smoking jacket, holding a pipe, and reading a newspaper. The MOM stocking had a woman wearing a beautiful red robe and slippers and a necklace as she decorated a tree. 

The stockings were not - to my knowledge - a kit. I believe my grandmother bought the elements and materials to piece together that family of 6. Our names were on the top stocking band in felt and sequins. So many hours of handwork. It boggles my mind. My scene on my very own stocking was of two children, a girl with blond ponytails and a sturdy boy, caroling underneath a street lantern. Did my grandmother know before I did my love of music?

Those stockings were so revered. Every year they would be brought out and carefully tacked to the wall, making certain to put the thumbtack in the hole from the year before. No fireplace needed in Houston, making for an awkward moment each year. But, we grew accustomed to the soft arch of six stockings cascading the wall behind the tree. And those stockings hung on the wall all season long. They were definitely not to be stuffed on Christmas Eve. Santa could jolly well continue leaving our fruit and nuts in our shirt box tops. Around New Year's, mother would take down the stockings from the wall, wrap them individually in tissue paper, and box them up. They stayed down out of the attic for protection. They were far too grand to be relegated to that hothouse with our other Christmas decorations.

When I married, I was given my stocking. Those 6 stockings that my grandmother made, like their owners, live today in 5 houses in 5 cities. I still treasure my handmade stocking. I did make a decision, though, when it passed to my possession. I decided that I was going to use mine each year. My own mother continued the handmade stocking tradition and made stockings for each of her sons-in-law, her daughter-in-law, all of her twelve original grandchildren, and some of her early great-grandchildren. My mother used those felt kits, by Bucilla I believe. But, they, too, are works of art. Finding a stocking kit that you liked, that fit with the others in your family collection, and then actually getting it ready for your child's first Christmas was a joy that I, and each of my sisters, treasured in our early family days.

Every year now, I hang 4 handmade stockings on my hearth. I have evaluated houses we've purchased based on whether or not there was a mantle for them. And every year when we deck the halls, I remember shirt boxes and oranges and brazilian nuts and blond-headed boys and chewing gum and Reese's Peanut Butter trees. My oldest son mentioned a few years back that his favorite thing was opening our stockings. I have to say I agree. Sometimes it's the littlest of trinkets that can make a morning memorable. Sometimes it's the simple joy of the stockings, and the stories they hold, that makes Christmas magical.

The Simple Joy of Stockings ~ Christmas Morning ~ December 2010

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: October Afternoon, Echo Park
Fonts: Honey Script, Chaparral Pro


  1. I really enjoyed that your father brought up that discussion. I enjoyed even more the story you told about it. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Another lovely story. You have such a way with words. I adore my stocking from childhood as well.