When my grandmother ordered personalized Christmas stockings for the first couple of grandchildren, there was plenty of space to hang them on the breakfast bar with care (beach condos don’t often prioritize fireplaces with mantels, so this was her festive solution). But by the time Grandchild #11 made his appearance, there was not even an inch of empty space; all the stockings were snuggled right up next to—and on top of—each other. But that’s just how it goes in a Southern household during the holidays: Wiggle room is no matter when stockings are at stake; every family member must have one! Of course, stockings aren’t just a rite of passage for newborn family additions: They’re also for the in-laws.
Yes, you may have buried the bourbon for good weather, cut the cake for tradition’s sake, and taken vows before God and your spouse’s 73 cousins, but the marriage rites are only one element of your admission into the family. No matter how much the in-laws like you, every Southerner knows you aren’t officially part of the crew until that first holiday season, when a needlepoint stocking selected just for you is hung on the mantel with the others.
In some families, the stocking comes shortly after the proposal. “My in-laws gave me a matching stocking the Christmas after we got engaged,” says travel and culture editor Tara Massouleh McCay. “I was in the heat of my ‘I’m going to get married and get a dog’ era and had been talking about wanting a puppy for Christmas quite a bit, so they got me an L.L. Bean stocking with a Golden Retriever on it. Six years later, it’s still the closest thing I have to a dog.”
For others, the stocking doesn’t come until after the wedding. “My mom got my now-husband Luis a placeholder stocking the Christmas after we got engaged,” says senior producer and video personality Ivy Odom Aponte. “It wasn’t until our first married Christmas that she gave him a real-deal cross-stitch stocking to match mine.” Their dog, Basil, has one too, of course. (And she got hers long before Luis.)
Whenever it’s gifted, the Christmas stocking is a sure sign that you’ve officially been welcomed into the family and a good omen for many happy holiday seasons to come. So here’s hoping my new mother-in-law has one picked out for me!