There are many stories about why we hang our socks on the mantle at Christmastime. Whichever one you choose to tell, I'll bet you have very specific memories of the stockings that were hung by your chimney with care during your upbringing.
Ours were made of felt and had a vaguely Victorian theme. Mom's was a fancy boot trimmed with lace, Dad's was a manly argyle. Then the ones for the kids were smaller and a bit more timeless, decorated with snowmen and Santa heads and reindeer. We came to some agreement back in the mists of time which one of us corresponded with which decoration.
Those stockings were tiny compared with the ones that Noel's family hangs. His stepdad's mom knit an intarsia embellished stocking for each of us when we joined the family, and each one is bigger than the next -- Cady Gray's would fit Andre the Giant. They really go in for stockings in that clan, and stocking stuffers are correspondingly ginormous. Even with all the room, there are typically bags full of gifts intended for stockings that won't fit, grouped around the stockings messily on Christmas morning, the stockings themselves having been removed from their hangers for excessive weight and laid unceremoniously on the hearth.
Even though stockings are generally an afterthought in my Christmas planning and execution, emptied of their contents only after all the presents have been opened, I still think those oversized socks are a central part of the holiday. Without them, Christmas would be no different from a birthday party -- a pile of presents, a stack of thank-you cards owed. Every time I look at the stockings that have been hanging over our fireplace since Thanksgiving, I sense the specialness of the holiday: family traditions, anonymous gifts, anticipation, and all the little things.