The Art of the Perfect Christmas Stocking

Granted, my definition of "fits in the stocking" is very liberal.
Granted, my definition of "fits in the stocking" is very liberal. Photo by Eden, Janine and Jim on Flickr
For some people, the Christmas stocking portion of the holiday is merely an afterthought, something you throw a few candy bars in and call a day. I believe that the stocking is a chance to fully express how much you care for your loved ones in a variety of small ways, and therefore should be approached with deadly (but jolly) seriousness. If you’ve ever seen someone who has never had a customized holiday stocking haul crafted for them react for the first time, you’re missing something magical. I’ve watched grown men break down and cry.

Candy is by far the most common thing in American Christmas stockings and should probably form the base of the haul. That said, I always take the opportunity to make sure it’s something more than the impulse buys from the grocery store. Small packs of truffles, king sized or otherwise special editions of regular candy, bags of goodies from places like The Chocolate Bar, and other things that aren’t part of day-to-day life make the entire ritual extra sweet.

In fact, snacks are generally a great stocking stuffer thanks in no small part to the hectic holiday. That’s why I usually supplement the treats with stuff like Hickory Farms cheeses and sausages or sometimes nuts. Quick bits of filling protein under the guise of a gift can head off a lot of hangry behavior when the stress of the day gets to you. Before I quit drinking, I also used to be a fan of miniature bottles of wine or liquor, which can also take the edge off things. These aren’t just delicious noms. They are small maintenance kindnesses for the people around you and subtle ways of making their lives immediately easier.

The general formula for a good Christmas present haul is something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read. These are things that can all be placed in a Christmas stocking with a little invention. I’ve always been a fan of holiday shopping at Half Price Books for small mass market paperbacks to tuck in stockings, especially as modern books get bigger and bigger. If that fails, Amazon gift cards are always an option, though there is something far more personal about hunting down a slightly shoddy book in a genre a person enjoys.

The best thing about a stocking is that it lets you toss in a lot of things that are themselves too small to be gifts, but which are needed or useful. I love hitting Five Below for stuff like phone accessories, refrigerator magnets, scrunchies, knit hats, lip balms, flashlights, cables, multi-purpose tools, and things like that. More than once these small items ended up being things my family continued to use for years after they were given even when more expensive and “important” things were under the tree.

Bath products are also a must. Not only do things like bath bombs from Lush make the stocking smell heavenly, but they’re also small enough to fit right down to the bottom of the toe. On a cold winter day after a lot of family hoopla, laying back in a warm tub with your favorite scent is an amazing way to unwind and a personal gift you can give someone that they would maybe not ever give themselves. The small Yankee Candle jars can be a nice substitute for people who just want to smell nice and be dry.

Of course, you can also put real gifts in the stockings, and I sometimes do. One year when my wife and I were especially broke we made a deal that we could buy the other person anything we wanted as long as it fit in a stocking. I got a copy of Final Fantasy IV on Nintendo DS, and she got a perfume she really liked. That ended up being a very good holiday despite the lack of “real” gifts. I’ve put everything from expensive makeup palettes to Nintendo Switch games in my family’s stockings since.

Why not put them under the tree? Because stockings are the final surprise. They come after all the presents and the videos and the big reveals. They’re this final dessert to the entrée of the holiday. Crafted with a theme and care in mind, they can be a capstone for the whole year and a curation of your regard for the people around you. In multiple small ways, a sticking can show how much you pay attention to what your loved ones want and need. A perfect stocking is a curated collection of expressions of your love. Don’t neglect them if you can avoid it.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner