Children have been hanging stockings to receive sweet treats and small gifts for many years. Before the Christmas tree became popular, stockings were the primary means of delivering gifts. Many children over the years used one of their socks as their Christmas stocking. Today most children are opting to hang store-bought stockings, some even personalized with their names.
Children in some countries do not use stockings. In the Netherlands and in Austria children put out their shoes to be filled with sweets and gifts; while children in England hang either a stocking or a pillow case for Father Christmas to fill. In Italy children may hang a stocking or a suit of clothes near the fireplace. La Befana then comes during the night to fill the stockings or the pockets of their clothes with sweets and gifts.
Legend tells of the first stockings filled by St. Nicholas. They belonged to three daughters of a poor miller who lived around 300 A. D. The girls could not marry because they had no dowry. The miller could not support them any longer and did not wish to sell them into slavery. St. Nicholas heard about their plight. He prepared three bags of coins and walked to their house in the middle of the night. He stood by the chimney and tossed the three bags of gold. The bags fell down the chimney and into stockings which the girls had hung to dry the evening before.