The First Christmas Stocking

The first Christmas stocking I ever made was in 1960. I was 10 years old and living in Walnut Creek, California with my parents, Ted and Lillian. We didn’t have too many Christmas rituals, no church services or Advent candles. There was a china nativity set. It was small, but had all the important characters. We had a tree, of course. And my stocking. That red felt stocking was put up every year and I found it filled up every Christmas morning.

As the Christmas of 1960 approached, my mom said, “This will be Daddy’s last Christmas.” The words dropped with a thud into my heart. What does that mean? As it turned out, this was her way to prepare me, and maybe herself, for what was going to happen. His health was declining. He was 35 years old and was having end-of-life discussions with the doctors.

A Child is Inspired

How could a 10-year-old comprehend this information? An idea emerged: I’ll make him his-very-own Christmas stocking! I’ll put all my energies into making this Christmas special. Somehow, this will help.

In my 10-year-old mind, the best choice for a stocking was a stocking! I found an old nylon stocking of my mom’s. It was the kind with a triangle of darker nylon at the toe and with a band of the same up around the top. The kind you gather up, keeping a pocket for the toe, roll up over the leg, then attach to a garter belt, clip, and clip, up around the thigh.

I found some red yarn, and a large-eyed needle and wove the yarn in large stitches across the top of the nylon, spelling D-A-D-D-Y. That took some doing, because the yarn kept falling out and had to be rethreaded through the needle. Finally it was done and I began to fill it. I found several small gifts and wrapped them in Christmas wrapping paper.

The Stocking Never Fills

This memory always makes me laugh because in my naiveté and eagerness, it did not occur to me that the stocking would change its size. You see, a nylon stocking stretches as it’s filled by a leg or by little wrapped presents. And so, as I put in the presents, one by one, I had to put in more and more presents because the stocking kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. When it was done, I had to hold my arm up high so it wouldn’t drag on the floor.

I’m sure my daddy was properly grateful and affirming as he opened each present and admired my handiwork. And we shared this Christmas as we had others before…only this one had a pall cast over it… was his last Christmas.

I’ve held this memory for so long. In my mind it revealed a mother’s effort to prepare her child, a child’s effort to make things special, a plan that took on its own life, and a Christmas frozen in time.

Memories of Stockings Past

I wonder if now, having made a few more Christmas stockings, I can look beyond the memory I’ve held so firmly and discover new meanings? For example, if my mom knew it was his last Christmas, then probably so did my dad. What was that like for him? Did he treasure each moment together? Or each present that came out of the never-ending stocking? Was he depressed or angry at learning his life might end far too early? Would he miss seeing me grow up?

You might wonder how this “last Christmas” prophecy influenced my future Christmases. For a while, I became a card-carrying member of the Manic Merry Christmas Club, keeping all traditions active and over-flowing. I remember crying on occasion, not certain why, just a sadness that found me once in a while.

As my children grew older, returned from college and made their own choices for vacation time, I remember struggling…wanting them to be with us, exclusively. If I could just stop the clocks and lock the doors, maybe nothing would change. Funny how these words could have been so easily said in 1960.

I will always remember our last Christmas together with a smile in my heart. It was a time of love. It was a gift itself. My concentrated efforts, my dad’s enjoyment of the results and of me, even my mom’s attempt to help in a helpless situation. That Christmas was indeed filled with Love…and so was the stocking.

Lisa Irish, author: for current programs, retreats and regular posts.

Excerpted from Grieving – the Sacred Art: Hope in the Land of Loss, Skylight Paths Publishing, an imprint of Turner Publishing Company, Nashville, TN, 2018

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Lisa Irish

Lisa Irish, MEd, MA, BCC incorporates her experience in chaplaincy, spiritual direction and her own journey to guide the way in the Land of Loss. As former bereavement coordinator for Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Hospital of St Raphael, she ministered to individuals, groups and community organizations. Of her book, Grieving – the Sacred Art: Hope in the Land of the Loss, Fr. Richard Rohr says….”the roadmap is wise, but sensitive – grounded in hope – and reminds us to rest in God’s healing love.” Lisa shares her understanding of grief, healing and hope through rich retreat programs and in regular messages found at "Grieving with a Grateful Heart," Abbey Press. "Finding Healing in Times of Grief and Loss" (contributing author) Abbey Press "Grief - the Sacred Art," Skylight Paths Publishing in 2018.

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