Stocking Stockings

Filling the footwear hanging from the mantel is harder these days

We have a rule in our household on Christmas morning, dating from the bad old days when my son and daughter, hyped beyond belief for Santa’s arrival by a month-plus of carols and school parties and reindeer at the mall, would awaken and be set to start attacking the stash under the tree at five a.m., while my husband and I, who’d only finished wrapping two hours earlier, would want only to sleep, please God, this Christmas just please let us sleep. The rule is this: You can open and consume anything the Jolly Old Elf has left in your stocking while Mom and Dad are still in bed, but you have to wait for us to get up before you get to the Big Stuff. This sometimes bought us as much as two precious extra hours.

Though the kids are now in college and actually sleep later than Doug and I do, the stockings-first rule still applies. It’s hard to figure out what to fill those red-and-green hose with, though. I used to wrap up a lot of plastic dreck — bouncy balls, hair clips, slingshots, dollar-store crapola — and throw in some candy. (Okay, too much candy. It bought me time before I had to make breakfast.) But the kids aren’t much into dollar-store stuff anymore (college — it ruins you for life’s true pleasures), and we’re all watching our weight. I do always put new socks, neatly wrapped, in their stockings. We’ve made a family joke of the redundancy.

A lot of what the kids have asked for in recent years is so miniaturized (iPods, iPads, iPhones, iAnythings) that while according to cost it belongs beneath the tree with the Major Gifts, it would fit perfectly well in a stocking. This is problematic, as the kids aren’t so jaded that they don’t still like to see a big pile of stuff on the floor with tags bearing their names. They are growing up, though. They know times are tough, and that tempers their wish-lists. This year, my son Jake actually asked for socks. There’s no question some of the holiday magic is gone now that they’re older, but the frenzy of Christmas with little kids is, too — the impossible expectations, the reality that can never quite meet them — and I don’t miss that a bit.

Whatever else I put in their stockings, Marcy and Jake know they’ll each find an orange in the bottom, in the toe. My mom, who died before I was married, always put an orange in our stockings when I was small — a holdover from her childhood, when citrus was costly in South Philly in winter, and the sweet, juicy pulp was an exotic treat. Nowadays, I have my choice in the supermarket of fruits from all over the world: kiwis, figs, pomegranates, Asian pears, clementines. I stick with oranges for the sake of tradition, for the line they trace between my mom and the grandchildren she never knew.