I open this Christmas morning with a fable:
“Long ago there lived a nobleman who fell upon hard times after the untimely death of his wife.
He was distraught, having no means to provide a dowry for his stunningly beautiful daughters. A certain kind and generous patron happened by and heard the family's cries. Knowing the nobleman's pride would prevent him from taking charity, the patron hatched a scheme.
He returned to the sleeping house that evening and saw that the daughters had hung their washed stockings by the fire to dry. He crept in through the chimney and placed a bag of gold coins in each sock, enough for them to wed and more. Upon waking and finding the treasure, the family was much rejoiced and thankful for their good fortunes.”
This is either the story of a charitable man helping those in need, or of a very confused cat burglar. Either way, it is the legend, in one form or another, of how we came to hang stockings by the fireplace each Christmas in hopes of getting — if not a dowry — a sock full of candy, toys and jewelry.
Though our needs today are certainly no greater than they were for people hundreds of years ago, our stockings have grown larger. Interesting.
I love filling the stockings each year; stuffing them with things no one asked for, small surprises and mundane gifts. That's what sets the stocking apart; the gifts under the tree are asked for and expected — luxury items. But in the stocking, needs are met.
I'll put in toothpaste and soap, pencils and notepads, potatoes and onions. And chocolate. I am outnumbered by women in our house. Yes, chocolate is a need.
Each year when Thing 1 and Thing 2 pull vegetables from their stockings, I get the same disgusted, confused look; as if I were their Grinch. An hour later when I've made them the world's greatest breakfast, they are no longer so irritated with me.
This afternoon we'll go to my mother's house, where we will find more stockings waiting for us. Rather than gold coins, she'll give us underwear we'll never wear, lottery tickets and a pocket-sized barium enema kit.
I'm no nobleman. But when my daughters are of marrying age, the lucky young men they fancy had better realize what the real treasure is and not come seeking bags of gold. Yet there are a few other things I would like to put in their stockings:
A healthy diet, flossing every day and the joy of exercise.
Editor's note: While Patrick Caneday takes some time off, we’re running some of his choices for re-publication. This column was first published Dec. 25, 2010.