stocking stuffers.

December 19, 2017

James and I will be celebrating Christmas morning in our own apartment for the very first time this year and I’m so excited to have the chance to recreate some of my favorite childhood memories with my own kids. We’ll open presents while we eat warm cranberry bread and listen to the Emmylou Christmas album, and of course, we’ll open stockings.

When we travel for Christmas, I usually bring a few little things to stuff into stockings, but this year, James and I—and Santa—have the full responsibility to fill these guys with treats. Not wanting to fill up the stockings with too much that’s junky or otherwise disposable, I developed a few rules of thumb to follow. In case it’s helpful to anyone else, here’s what I’m aiming for this year:

Go old-fashioned. On the trajectory toward zero-waste—or, less waste—I find it’s often simplest to think in terms of what might have been available in a world before plastic packaging existed at all. Comestible stocking treats, bought in bulk, are my favorite, and you can’t go wrong with a bit of old-fashioned goodness. This year I’ve got walnuts, clementines, and candy from a bulk candy shop. (Walnuts and clementines are especially helpful for filling up cavernous stocking feet!)

Caveat: Be gentle with yourself. Procuring unpackaged treats in a twenty-first century world can get a little tricky. I ran into my own hiccup this week when while visiting local chocolatiers looking for chocolates in festive shapes, minus the cellophane wrappers, I was met with furrowed brows and puzzled expressions. When I thought I’d finally found a place to sell me chocolate Santas, I realized the kindly staffer was simply removing the wrappings behind the counter. Better luck next time. 

Offer an eco-substitute. No surprise, I love little gifts that can serve as gentle enablers for a more sustainable approach to an everyday need. A package of biodegradable chewing gum, for instance, or a stain remover wrapped in paper, or a reusable utensil for meals on the go.

Revisit old favorites. Maybe don’t raid the medicine cabinet willy-nilly and call a tube of toothpaste a present (Dad!), but do consider re-gifting something you already have or something that may have been forgotten. This year, I’m putting a pack of cards into James’s stocking. It’s not a new pack, but we tend to play cards only in the wintertime, so I’m including a note with an invitation for a rousing game of Spit. (No cheating!) I bought this little wooden top pictured above to give to Faye last year, but in a moment of Christmastime overload, I decided to save it to present again this year. We don’t need a new nutcracker each year, but our old one will go into a stocking so nuts can be cracked straight away.

Re-up on old favorites. A Christmas stocking can also be the perfect occasion to re-up on old favorites that might need freshening or replacing. Consider a fresh piece of chalk or two, a new eraser, a favorite soap, a restock of incense, and on and on, amen.  

For the curious: My knitting skills are still firmly in the beginner stage, so I ordered two pairs of these traditional Bulgarian wool socks to use for our Christmas stockings! 

What about you guys? Favorite stocking traditions? Alternative socking traditions? Best stuffers to date? I want to know everything!

PS. At three-and-a-half, we’re just beginning to introduce Faye to a few favorite movies. Over the weekend we watched one of my all-time favorites, the 1987 film, A Child’s Christmas in Waleswhich happens to include the very best stocking scene in movie history.

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  • Reply Аnn December 19, 2017 at 11:17 am

    A real Christmas gift!
    I went to read the recipe for cranberry bread.

  • Reply Alyssa December 19, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    Stockings have always been the “main event” of my family’s Christmas, and I’m excited to indoctrinate my husband into the tradition this year as we celebrate in our new home out-of-state. We’ve always aired on the side of practicality and with a new house, that method is exponential, so he’s getting Pho noodles (for our new favorite winter meal), kitchen staples that need updating/refilling, new gadgets to hone his breadmaking skills, treats that we share together — and in my family’s oldest tradition, a clementine at the foot of the stocking.

    I’ve been looking into zero-waste and reducing waste as of late, and love these ideas, especially re-gifting tried and true seasonal favorites!

  • Reply MA December 19, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    What great ideas. I love the deck of cards idea! For the kids, we do clementines, candy canes, and black licorice too. We always stick two pairs of wool socks for the season in the bottom of the stocking (good filler!). My kids love art supplies, so washi tape, new erasers, colored pencils, and those really fine point markers on the list for this year. We are a cycling family, so bike lights that you can attach to your wheels are also going in. Funny side note, my mom made all of our stockings, and mine from the 70s is a really nice modest size, but the kids stockings are ENORMOUS and seem bottomless. My son’s in particular. Oh well, I guess its reflective of inflation over time.

    • Reply Clio December 19, 2017 at 12:57 pm

      My mum made all of ours too but apparently was feeling rather flush at the time as they were huge…she went back a few years later and took them in all around!

      Stockings are the main event in our house too (and the only part that ‘santa’ does) – we usually focus on practical stuff, necessities, things to eat and some little treats!

    • Reply Kim B. December 20, 2017 at 4:14 pm

      My new baby brother came home from the hospital on Christmas Eve — in a baby-sized stocking rather than a swaddling blanket (I guess someone at the hospital made them and gave them to the newborns’ families). For the rest of my life, I had to look at the difference in stocking sizes between mine (regular sized) and his (big-enough-for-a-baby-size)!!

      When you mentioned ENORMOUS stockings, this is what came to mind!!

      Then of course there was also the fact that the Christmas tree was UP for his birthday, but down for mine (the first week of January) . . .

      wah wah wah!!

      (I mention all this as a joke, of course)

  • Reply Rachel December 19, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    I like these ideas, but how do keep loose candy from getting all wooly or melty in the stocking?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE December 19, 2017 at 1:41 pm

      Glass jar! Spice sack! Anything goes!

      • Reply Daniella Ciotti December 21, 2017 at 7:25 am

        I was going to ask the same thing! Of course it’s that simple, lol 🙂 these are fantastic ideas Erin. As always, thank you!! Merry Christmas!

  • Reply Nicole December 19, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    I love A Child’s Christmas in Wales! I watch the movie every year with my mom, and I’m also reading the book to my oldest this year. This year the stockings will have stainless steel drinking straws, new pencil crayons and a small pad of paper, hand-knitted socks, and a small mason jar of home-baked and store bought goodies.

  • Reply Jennifer December 19, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    I was just going to email you today about stockings! I couldn’t find any I loved so I strung up 4 of my wooly camp socks. Hoping to find a really nice set for next year. Do you know of any other good sources for handmade stockings?

    • Reply Shannon December 19, 2017 at 2:59 pm

      These are made in the U.S.A and the company is based in the deep northwoods of Eagle River, Wisconsin. I’m giddy about placing an order for next year as I think I’ve put it off too late this year!!

      • Reply Shannon December 19, 2017 at 2:59 pm

        Forgot the link!

      • Reply Alix December 19, 2017 at 5:54 pm

        Thanks for the link — I am SO ordering one for next year!

      • Reply Jennifer December 20, 2017 at 11:25 am

        Thanks so much, those are just what I was looking for! I’ll order those for next year so I can have my socks back 🙂

  • Reply Starla December 19, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Once my kids were old enough to read I started giving ‘Solstice Coupons’ in their stockings. I mark off 10 coupons on a piece of coloured card stock (different colour for each kid) and write out a different thing for each rectangle. I’ve done a variety of gifts; get a confiscated toy back free of consequence, get a pint of ice cream, 5 minute massage, cookie from our favourite bakery, I will accompany them while they take out the trash or do a chore, go to bed 15 minutes late, etc. It’s nice to be able to tailor the gifts to their age and they LOVE the coupons, especially since they can use them all year (they expire the next Solstice 🙂 ).

  • Reply Amy December 19, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    I love the idea of home baked goods going into the stockings! It’s hard to avoid the tradition of candy in this house, as the kids really look forward to it, and it seems mean-spirited of me to just opt-out of that. But I add books and magazines, which take up heaps of space. We all usually sit after breakfast and find ourselves reading something, probably allowing our bodies to adjust to the amount of sugar we’ve just consumed. I envision a day not too far into the future, when my husband and I will likely fill stockings for Christmas and that’s it. Enjoy your first Christmas in your own space. It’s my favorite way to spend this holiday.

  • Reply sasha December 19, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    My husband does the sweetest thing for my stocking, every year. He buys good sandwich cookies (pb or chocolate and creme) and hand dips them in my favorite, melted guittard milk chocolate chips. He used to give one for every xmas together!! But at 15 I said whoa, 15 every year from here out. First thing Xmas morning I eat two, and they are the BEST treats all year.

    • Reply Kim B. December 20, 2017 at 4:16 pm

      Wow, what a lovely, thoughtful idea and gift. Keep him!!

      • Reply sasha January 3, 2018 at 6:08 pm

        Lol, he is a keeper 🙂

  • Reply sasha December 19, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    For my children, we always give homemade chocolates, like bark with crushed candy canes, or dipped ginger, or pb cups. I try to give things that get used, but also fun, cute bandaids, socks, lip balm, fancy soap, and i sew little felt animals, so a different one of those goes in too (foxes, owls, dogs, polar bears etc). We did new piano music and yarn for knitting sometimes too.

    A couple traditions fun for our family: The Night Tree by Eve Bunting, and a night hike to decorate a tree for the animals, a trip to our rescue shelter with food for the animals, and baked maple cinnamon overnight French toast on Xmas morning.

    • Reply Trish O December 20, 2017 at 8:17 am

      Interested in what you do to decorate the trees for,the animals? Love this idea.

      • Reply jen December 21, 2017 at 12:12 pm

        decorating a tree for animals sounds magical

      • Reply sasha January 3, 2018 at 6:11 pm

        We do unsalted popcorn, peanuts in shell, plain sunflower seeds, raw cranberries, pieces of carrot, pinecones coated with peanut butter and bird seed.

  • Reply sasha December 19, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    That Bulgarian wool shop is just charming!! Thank you for sharing, absolutely beautiful stockings.

  • Reply Grace December 19, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    I love this! I am trying desperately to have a junk-free, mostly trash-free xmas this year. No knick-knacks to clutter the house, less plastic wrap, etc. I love the idea of offering treats. Oranges seem perfect–or perhaps something bakes that can be wrapped in a rag with a cute bow.

    Thanks so much for sharing these ideas!

  • Reply Rebecca Leduc December 19, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    Would you mind sharing where that adorable top came from? My son would love it!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE December 19, 2017 at 3:30 pm

      I got it last year at Norman and Jules here in Brooklyn.

      • Reply Rebecca Leduc December 19, 2017 at 5:21 pm

        Thank you! I will see whether I can find something locally (CA). And thanks for your excellent writing and inspiration. Always a pleasure to read your blog.

    • Reply Martha December 19, 2017 at 3:57 pm

      They have many beautiful tops at The Wooden Wagon online, if you are still looking for some!

      • Reply Rebecca Leduc December 19, 2017 at 11:51 pm

        Thanks, Martha! What a beautiful selection of toys. I don’t think the top will make it to the West Coast in time at this point, but I’m bookmarking your site for future reference!

      • Reply Nicole December 20, 2017 at 12:28 am

        Love The Wooden Wagon! Some little wooden birds from them will make their appearance in my daughter’s stocking this year.

  • Reply Judith December 19, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    My children are now adults, but one of them especially still loves the stocking tradition — which oddly does NOT include his parents having stockings. Anyway, this year, the stocking load will be light, but will include seed packets: those that can be planted outside for Seattle son and those meant to be planted inside for Brooklyn son. Also, a small notebook and mechanical pencil for our family bread czar to make notes in (some people go REALLY in depth with every endeavor), there will be some foodstuffs, but since they now pay their own dental bills, I’m pretty stingy with the sweets. A word of warning: don’t ever put personal care items in a stocking — I did then one year for teenage sons and I still haven’t heard the end of it. Deodorant in a Xmas stocking? Sheer heresy.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE December 19, 2017 at 3:33 pm

      Ha! (Sheepishly removes deodorant from stocking…)

    • Reply Trish O December 20, 2017 at 8:20 am

      Hahaha. I have put deodorant in my teen boys’ stockings. Too funny

    • Reply Erika December 29, 2017 at 1:31 pm

      Ha! My dad always fills my sisters’ and my stockings with personal care items (we are mostly grown now), and we LOVE IT. Who wants to buy razor blades or chapstick? He just goes to Costco and splits up one big pack between the three of us (for minimal packaging).

  • Reply Sarah December 19, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    Stockings are what I miss most from childhood Christmases, but every year they seem too expensive to replicate. And my husband is already tough to shop for (blast his general contentment!).

    Magazines, personal items (toothbrushes need replacing anyway!), candy (rarely enjoyed outside holidays), socks, underwear, and all kinds of small presents, fancy and not, went into ours.

    In terms of kids’ Christmas movies, Muppet Christmas Carol is the absolute best, hands-down. Much or most of the narration is verbatim from Dickens! Gonzo and Rizzo are delightful! The music is a total win! Highly recommend.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE December 19, 2017 at 3:57 pm

      Ha! My sisters and I *loved* A Muppet’s Family Christmas growing up! Have to revisit!

  • Reply Wren @ Warmly, Wren December 19, 2017 at 4:05 pm

    I love these ideas and how resourceful you are. 🙂 If you’re ever in a chocolate jam again, try Chocolat by Adam Turoni. He’s based in Savannah, GA and makes the most wonderful chocolates I’ve ever tasted. He may be able to work with you on a custom chocolate design or you might find something in his online shop that works.

  • Reply Neurotic Workaholic December 19, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    I love your stocking stuffer ideas, and it’s definitely refreshing to read posts like yours after reading articles like the one I just read about the mother who spent thousands of dollars on Christmas presents for her kids; she has two kids and bought them 300 presents!

  • Reply MissEm December 19, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    Love the deck of cards idea! And the sock – our stockings are way too big and my kids’ are always a little paltry. This year we’re doing new modeling beeswax, fruit leather (packaged, but that’s pretty unusual and special for them), books, but actually…a lot packaged now that I think of it, but I firmly avoid any junk “just to get it done” stuffers. Love cranberry bread and Christmas in Wales!

  • Reply Virginia December 19, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    Seeing how I’ve never heard of A Child’s Christmas in Wales, I am now desperately curious what other Christmas movies you would recommend? 🙂

  • Reply Kyla December 20, 2017 at 9:01 am

    The Emmylou Christmas album is my #1 all time favorite, oh it’s just the best.

  • Reply Christie December 20, 2017 at 9:46 am

    Thank you for this. My husband’s family does stockings (I never did with my family), and I have always been at a loss. I love these ideas and will steal them. We bought some brush with bamboo toothbrushes already for everyone. We have a local grocery that has a ton of bulk candy, and we have a bunch of little cloth bags/pouches, so we will get some jordan almonds and other similar candies in bulk and then distribute them into the smaller bags for stockings. Also clementines. This is the first year I am excited to stuff stockings!

  • Reply Louise December 20, 2017 at 10:50 am

    Which size socks did you get for the stocking please? Thanks x

  • Reply Pat December 20, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    This post brought back three wonderful memories for me. 1. When I was a child (I’m more than old enough to be your mother), I always asked Santa for “nuts and fruits and candies” because those were real treats that my parents could seldom afford. Oh the joy on Christmas morning. 2. When my son (older than you) was about five and was getting ready to see Santa, I prompted him to ask for “nuts and fruits and candies.” The most puzzled expression appeared on his face as he asked, “Why, Mama?” Then I realized that we were fortunate: we HAD those items in our house all the time. 3. Years later after the children’s Christmas play at church, all the children were given brown paper lunch sacks filled with “nuts and fruits and candies.” The children were thrilled, truly, because those items were no longer considered “cool,” and the children seldom got such treats. Their reaction was wonderful to behold. Thank you, Erin, for sharing wonderful suggestions and prompting the best memories. Merry Christmas to you and your little family!

    • Reply Anne December 21, 2017 at 8:26 am

      What a lovely story!

  • Reply Karin December 20, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    Stockings are my favorite part of Christmas morning!
    Our essentials: a pack of Thank you cards and a new pen, so gratitude can be expressed first thing (and writing feels like part of the gift and not a chore), holiday only treats — marzipan, peppermints, etc , and a puzzle book (logic puzzles!) or brain teaser.

    • Reply Stephanie December 20, 2017 at 3:07 pm

      Thank you stationery is a brilliant idea!

  • Reply Ruchita December 20, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    Erin, such a nice sustainable blog post! I would like to wish Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and your family.

  • Reply Kitty December 20, 2017 at 8:31 pm

    For years and years when I was young, my family would swap around the same funny pins (the big round button-kind) in our Christmas stockings. We had 6 or 8, and someone always got the one that said “Old Grump”, which we thought was hysterical.

  • Reply Anne December 21, 2017 at 8:32 am

    Thanks for a wonderful post, Erin! We always got a magazine in our stockings for Christmas, nothing else. Usually a big cartoon magazine like Asterix or Tintin when we were kids, and more expensive sports or other special interest magazine that we wouldn’t buy ourselves when we were teenagers. Not too much hassle for “Santa”, and a great way to start Christmas morning. I will do the same for my kids, starting with a book now that they’re tiny.

    • Reply Jay December 22, 2017 at 12:15 am

      Anne, I’m also a fan of Asterix and Tintin! Introduced my son to them too.

  • Reply Mary in Maryland December 21, 2017 at 11:43 am

    My Mom hated toys that had many small pieces. Yet every year Santa left us a set f Lincoln logs under the tree. They got packed away when the tree came down (our first day back at school) only to appear under the tree the next year. Chinese checkers were also seasonal.

  • Reply jen December 21, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    I am so thrilled to find that there is a movie version of A Child’s Christmas in Wales! I had no idea. I have such a lovely copy of the book and read it every year. Guess I know what I am doing tonight! I have also somehow never seen the Muppets Christmas Carol even though I’ve been listening to the John Denver and the Muppets Christmas album since I was a kid, it’s my favorite (though my 3 year old told me this morning he was sick of it).

    Last year my kids got small books in their stocking-the Nutshell Library from Sendak for my 6 year old and some cute little animal board books I found for my youngest, haven’t gotten any this year but those mini versions of the Peter Rabbit books would fit nicely in most stockings.

  • Reply Alexis December 21, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    I love your ideas here! My partner tends to go overboard at Christmas (a result of his mom’s practices growing up…) while I am trying to lessen and be more mindful of our purchases. It’s a constant tug-of-war. But doing it this way makes it less stressful on the wallet and environment!

    I’ve made all of our stockings using patterns from the Purl Soho website. They have a beautiful one called the Heirloom Stocking in a beautiful snow white. My son’s was made using a color called “Redwood” which is mostly green with bits of brown, and a bright red trim. The construction isn’t too hard, since it’s basically a huge sock and you won’t be contorting your fingers!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE December 21, 2017 at 2:29 pm

      Lovely! Socks are firmly out of my wheelhouse, but maybe one day!

  • Reply Katherine December 22, 2017 at 7:33 am

    I am not sure that I understand this post. Sustainable ideas, but then the stockings are being shipped from Bulgaria? It doesn’t make sense to worry about chocolate being wrapped (maybe even in cellophane, which is compostable) and then not worrying about having stockings packaged and shipped from overseas?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE December 22, 2017 at 9:46 am

      Thinking about a global economy and sustainability is tricky indeed! It’s a fascinating and humbling exercise to acknowledge our reliance on global trade for all kinds of conveniences. The computers we’re typing on, the coffee we might be sipping while writing early morning messages, the chocolate, wrapped or otherwise, that we might be putting under the tree—the components of all of these things were almost certainly mined and made, grown and produced, wrapped and shipped from across the globe. We can choose to worry about it all, of course. (And yes! True cellophane is compostable, but not the many forms of plastic alternatives that masquerade as the same thing.)

  • Reply Sam December 24, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    Unlikely, but if you have amazon prime The Snowy Day movie is actually really sweet – our whole family loves it.

  • Reply Gwyn December 29, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    A Child’s Christmas in Wales is the best! Coming from a Welsh family we watched it every year when I was growing up. I was so pleased to see it on the PBS app last night. I hope new families had a chance to discover it this year.

  • Reply Helen January 3, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    I just learned our local library branch is beginning to develop a “library of things” they have just purchased a pizzelle press. ..a cookie I have always wanted to make, but didn’t want to store the press for 11.5 months. I wonder if your library might have a similar thing. ..and maybe even chocolate molds. You could buy bulk chocolate and make a few special treats, then return the molds. If they don’t have any, but do have a collection of items to check out. ..maybe you could suggest it and/or donate some chocolate molds that would them new available to all…and to you! Thank you for the great post!

  • Reply Helen January 3, 2018 at 12:07 pm

    Opps…typo at end. ..should say “would then be available” sorry!

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