As a man there isn’t much I can do right when it comes to Christmas. According to my wife I can’t cook. According to my daughters I can’t shop. And according to my wallet I’m Scrooge.
While I have neighbors — all men, by the way — who deck the halls with billions of lights on every bush and rain gutter my house is conspicuously dark every Christmas.
That comes not from being Scrooge-like but rather an unfortunate lack of talent with with tools and ladders.
Besides, my wife says I once tried to put the plugged in toaster in the dishwasher and with that kind of mentality I’m automatically banned from messing with the likelihood of extension cords and the wet outdoors.
(Personally, it was a good gag. I used the same kind of thing to get out of mowing the lawn with my mother. She would only trust me with a broom).
My specialty when it comes to Christmas is stuffing the stockings. That’s my job.
Santa began his tradition of giving by stuffing stockings, by the way. Back in his original day there were no Christmas trees. Just stockings hung by the chimney with care. So that’s where he put the stuff — the good stuff.
Stockings these days are mostly an after thought. Like the timeless manual can opener or, dare I say it, useless husband, stocking stuffers just don’t get the respect they deserve.
All the big gifts of Christmas get festively wrapped in boxes with ribbons and bows, to shine underneath the glorious tree. The stocking only gets hung on the mantel, there to sit mere inches from burning hell until at the last minute it is pulled down and filled with mostly worthless stuff — the unsexy things of Christmas.
I did a little information poll of some neighbors of what they got in their stockings last year. It was a sad story of socks, money, gift cards, toothpaste, and cheap movies.
Why can’t we put more imagination into the old stocking?
As a kid the stocking was the first thing I could go through in the dark of Christmas morning while I waited for the rest of the house to get their butts downstairs to get to the loot. It was my favorite part of Christmas because the stocking always had things that were unwrapped and usually there was something I wasn’t expecting inside that I couldn’t wait to use.
Years later, of course, I learned the secret behind all that. My old man did the stockings. He wouldn’t let my mother touch it. And he told me, for the sake of both my marriage and of Christmas mornings for years to come it had better be a duty I took on myself, too. My father was a sage. It was advice I embraced and have never regretted.
Take, for example, the stocking of my 16 year old son just last year. Most of his friends got the usual. But he got firecrackers.
I knew where he was coming from, you see. I knew he’d be up at four a.m. on Christmas morning and wanting his family going. Knowing that he would go to his stocking first — every kid does, by the way — I filled it with several strings of firecrackers, some matches, and some new slippers for his feet when he went out back to set them off — at four in the morning.
He did exactly as predicted. He lit the firecrackers and woke us all up — and everyone in the neighborhood — and we all rushed down stairs to see his rosy cheeks flush with excitement and smiles as he said, “Merry Christmas! Let’s get started!”. Totally worth it.
You see, that’s the secret to great stocking stuffers: surprises. A stocking stuffer should inspire creativity, create enthusiasm, garnish a giggle, or maybe draw a tear. You can’t do that with socks and toothpaste.
So my plans for stocking stuffers usually start early in October. I am listening intently to the whole family for clues. I make lists and check them twice.
Usually about this time we start talking Christmas. But nothing get talked about more in our house than the stocking stuffers. Everyone knows it is “Santa’s” job to stuff the stockings. And that that is why they so look forward to it.
One year Santa stuffed plane tickets in my wife’s stocking. She wanted to see her Mom and she knew there was no way in the world I was going to endure yet another trip to my mother-in-laws in the dead of winter. But Santa knew and took care of it.
My college-age daughter — home for Christmas and prone to rolling her eyes at the excess that she considers Christmas as she goes through the moralistic years of young adulthood — got treated to a little lesson from Santa. Her stocking was filled with what a four year old might receive: bubbles, chewing gum, jacks, jump ropes, etc. Nothing much but everything important. She called me Daddy that Christmas for the first time in years — and spared us all the lectures on Christmas morning. Santa is a sage, too.
The stocking stuffer cannot be overlooked. It cannot be done last minute and be done right. It takes a lot of thought. Money is always the last thing to consider when it comes to the stocking stuffer. Love is always the first.