The Christmas stockings

My boyfriend and his relatives made me feel like part of the family on Christmas

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The Christmas stockings, with Julie's at the far right--Photo courtesy of Julie Rattey
Julie and Dan--Photo by Deb Connors
Julie's stocking, detail--Photo courtesy of Julie Rattey

By Julie Rattey


“Come look at the stockings,” my boyfriend said.

 

Dan led me into the family room of his parents’ house, where four colorful stockings hung from an old-fashioned fireplace. It was late in the evening on December 24 — our first Christmas Eve together — and for the past several hours Dan had been excitedly sharing with me all the family traditions he could. We had just come in from the snowy dark after Mass and his grandmother’s Christmas Eve party, and before the family headed off to bed Dan wanted to share one more tradition: the stockings.

 

I gazed at them admiringly.  The oldest — labeled “Kathy” for Dan’s mom—was made by Dan’s grandmother in the 1950s, Dan explained. It was of soft, green, velvety fabric, decorated in felt and odds and ends with various Christmas images — a tree, a star, Santa in his sleigh. The bottom of the stocking was festively trimmed with red ribbon and small jingle bells.

 

Dan then showed me the other three stockings — red, blue, and purple — which were modeled after his mom’s and made by her for Dan’s father, Dan, and his sister Emily. I was reminded of my family’s own Christmas stockings, which my mom had made for us years ago. It felt a little strange knowing I wouldn’t see my parents until Christmas Day this year, but it was exciting to be sharing the holiday with Dan, who had been my friend for several years and my boyfriend since February. What made the occasion even more special for us both was a mutual feeling and hope that this shared Christmas would be the first of many.

 

After I had finished looking at the stockings, I turned back to Dan. Around us was warm quiet, and the dim glow from the few remaining lights turned on in the house. Although I wasn’t with my family tonight, or in my own apartment, I felt at home. I was with Dan, and that was just where I wanted to be. “They’re beautiful,” I said, smiling up at him. Then we bid each other goodnight.

 

The next morning, while Dan and Emily and I were chatting in the kitchen in our pajamas, Dan’s parents called us into the family room to open presents. Dan’s dad, who videotaped every Christmas, trained the lens on me as I knelt at the fireplace and carefully placed my presents beside the others that had appeared since last night. This done, I seated myself on the couch next to Dan, excited about the gifts I had prepared and waiting to see how things would begin. I had been in this room many times — watching movies with friends, playing with the family cats, talking and laughing with Dan’s family. But today was different. This was Christmas morning — an intimate family occasion — and Dan and his family had invited me to share in it. 

 

While I was busy with my thoughts, Dan was busy looking at me.

 

“Did you notice anything different about the stockings?” he asked, smiling.

 

I glanced across to the fireplace. In truth, I had been too absorbed in depositing my presents to look. Now I saw: Hanging next to Dan’s deep blue velvet stocking was another one, of icy blue hue. I felt a little flutter of mingled shyness and gratitude: Did they have an extra stocking that they had hung for me?

 

“There’s…another one?” I suggested timidly.

 

Everyone urged me to take a closer look, so I stepped over to the fireplace. The new stocking displayed, in felt figures, a beautiful winter scene of penguins amid three snowy hills. One penguin was happily sliding on his belly; another was tending to a brood of chicks; two others hovered lovingly over a tiny chick whose stubby wings were held up endearingly toward his parents. Delicately decorated snowflakes dotted the scene. At the top of the stocking, written in tiny rhinestones on a blue satin band, was my name.

 

It wasn’t just a stocking they had hung for me, I realized: They had made me a stocking like their own.

 

“Oh, it has my name on it!” I cried, touched and delighted. Tears sprung to my eyes, and I turned swiftly from the fireplace to give hugs and kisses to everyone. Then I returned to claim my stocking, admiring its prettiness and, even more, the story behind it. Dan and his mother and Emily had planned out the stocking, they explained. Dan had scoured craft stores for just the right fabric, and he and his mother had sat at the dining room table over the course of several days, painstakingly cutting out and attaching the little felt pieces.

 

I looked tenderly at Dan. He, in turn, looked happy and content that his family’s gift had meant so much. I snuggled a little closer, then began to pull wrapped packages out of my stocking.

 

When I went to my parents’ house later that day, I was bursting to tell them the story. As I did, I proudly displayed my treasured stocking for them to see. “They made me feel like part of their family,” I said, tears springing back into my eyes. My mom let out a short sob of happiness.

 

The stocking hung on my own fireplace for several weeks following Christmas that year, and will be used for years to come. I received many wonderful presents that Christmas, but none was more precious to me than my beautiful Christmas stocking.

Managing Editor Julie Rattey

Julie Rattey is a Boston-based writer and editor. She is the author of If I Grew Up in Nazareth, available from 23rdPublications.com.