The perfect traditional zero waste stocking

Christmas morning in my house had different rules; we were allowed out of bed before 7am, which was usually off the table for non-school days since my sister and I awoke by 6am. We could have candy for breakfast, which was found in our Christmas stockings; they were also the only gift(s) we could open before we could wake our parents (at 7am, as per usual).

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Christmas was traditional growing up; we decorated the tree with homemade popcorn string and homemade ornaments. We checked outside for traces of Santa Claus to see if perhaps the reindeer ate the reindeer food (oatmeal) we sprinkled in the driveway and if there was snow outside, we went sledding.

The holidays and the buying that typically goes along with them can make it hard to stick to our environmental or zero waste values. I don’t think anyone particularly loves the materialistic side that comes out of most of us this time of year, but I think we all love our traditions, and the way most families celebrate requires a lot of consumption, purchasing, and giving of brand new, unused things that we don’t need (mine included). Being the old woman I am at heart, I can’t blame anyone for the nostalgia this time of year creates. On the contrary, we should use this nostalgia for tradition for more intentional and conscious gift giving because, let’s be honest, a traditional Christmas doesn’t really include bags and boxes full of low quality plastic toys, oh-so-cute home decor from TJ Maxx, or novelty gifts.

The following list has all you need to know to fill the stockings and keep a light footprint.


An Orange

The toe of a Christmas stocking is the perfect shape and size for an orange. Some say the orange was a special gift in the past when fresh fruit was hard to come by in the winter. Others claim it has origin in the beginnings of the Christmas stocking, which is said to have come about when Saint Nicholas heard of an poor old man with three daughters he feared may not marry because of their poverty. Saint Nicholas filled the socks of the poor young women, hanging to dry by the fire, with gold coins so that they could marry. Other variations on the story suggest the saint put a gold ball in each stocking, and that the orange is a visual representation of this. Regardless of why we do it, continue (or start) this tradition this year. It’s an especially good choice if the people in your household tend to have what they find in their stockings for breakfast.

Chocolate coins

Straight from the more conventional legend of Saint Nicholas, gold coins are traditionally placed in Christmas stockings. Chocolate coins were always fun for me as a child because even once you ate the chocolate, if you peeled off the foil carefully enough, you could keep the foil wrappers as play money. I have seen chocolate coins in the bulk section at supermarkets, so check your local store (or candy store, if you have one) for chocolate coins. In some regions, aluminum foil is even recyclable, so if there are no interested children in your home hanging on to the foil from the coins, you can ball it up to recycle.

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tooth brush and toothpaste  

There doesn’t seem to be a good reason why toiletries make it into our stockings. It seems that historically, items such as handkerchiefs or perfumes may have been in stockings, so perhaps through time that has changed to what we know now. Perhaps toiletries are simply small enough to fit in our stockings. A toothbrush and toothpaste were always included in my stocking. To make this tradition more zero waste, choose a bamboo toothbrush and a toothpaste in recyclable packaging like Tom’s of Maine or Colgate, which recycles through Terracycle. Either way, if you haven’t switched to a bamboo toothbrush, now is as good a time as ever.

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Soap

This isn’t a purely stocking type gift, but it falls along the line of toiletries. In the second world war, soap was so severely rationed that it was a common Christmas gift for adults in Britain a few years into the fighting. As always, opt for a local or vegan soap if possible!

Deodorant and even a pack of razors were also a staple in stockings in my home. Your zero waster, or you yourself, will probably know what low waste deodorant version works best for them, so if they may need more (or maybe you don’t know how to tell them what they use isn’t working) you can slip it right in their stocking. What’s even more adorable is that they make tiny three by four inch boxes of baking soda, which many zero wasters could use for a whole myriad of things, although a tiny box is not the most responsible use of cardboard packaging. I digress; hopefully, you and your household members have some form of razor that isn’t just a disposable razor if you shave. A new pack of blades or replacement blades could easily fit in a stocking as well.

dried fruits and nuts

Another lifesaver for your household members if they’re finding breakfast in their stockings, is fruits and nuts. This tradition doesn’t seem to have a particular origin rather than being a special treat for Christmas. Candied nuts are one of my favorite holiday treats, and even if it’s unlikely that everyone in your home will jump on this idea, it’s worth a try. If not, candies or chocolate serve the same purpose of being a special Christmas treat. My grandmother always put a popcorn ball in the stockings of my mother and aunts, which may have been popular in the 50s and 60s, or maybe is just a family tradition; we never did this in my house, but there’s no time like the present. Maybe this year I’ll take a crack at making one myself.

Toys

As to the kind of toys traditionally in stockings, it really depends on the period of history and the economic status of each family. For the kids in your family, a small toy that you have reason to think they will love and enjoy is perfect for a stocking. If none of the toys you want to gift are small enough to fit in a stocking, don’t sweat it. There’s no need to purchase something else just to fill a stocking when you’ve already thoughtfully chosen other gifts.


Most of these traditional stocking stuffers fall into the categories of consumables and necessities, as outlined in The four kinds of zero waste gifts. Gifting is not about acquiring things, and neither are the holidays. This year as you celebrate, pick gifts thoughtfully, be gracious and grateful for what you do receive, and don’t let being overwhelmed with consumer culture keep you from reducing your waste.

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