When I was a kid, we had some fun Christmas traditions. For one thing, Santa Claus brought the tree. That essentially meant that my parents pulled an all-nighter Christmas Eve to transform the living room into a Macy’s holiday window. What I now realize was a desperate attempt to get a few moments of precious sleep, my parents told my brothers and me that when we woke up Christmas morning, we could go downstairs on our own and open our stockings.

Every year, I would wake at the crack of dawn and fly down the stairs to catch that first glimpse of the miracle that is Christmas. There they hung on the mantle, three hand-sewn stockings—well, four—but the one for our dog, Buttons, just had a Milk-Bone biscuit inside. My stocking, on the other hand, was bursting at the seams. Every year, I would snatch it off the hook and tear into it. Every year, I would shiver with anticipation. And every year, like the contestant who chose the wrong curtain on Let’s Make a Deal, I suddenly heard that sound, whaa whaaaa...

What the…? I mean, my parents are frugal, practical people by nature. They are from hearty, pioneer stock, but this was a new low. My mother could fill a stocking for less than an hour’s worth of a minimum-wage salary. As I stared down at the array of fruit, bar soap, pencil sets and travel coloring books, I thought to myself, When I have kids, I am going to stuff the best stockings in the world!

You may have noticed that when you make the transition from kid to parent, things have a tendency to come back and bite you in the rear. When my kids were born, my mother and Cranky’s godmother needle-pointed them the three most incredibly gorgeous Christmas stockings I have ever seen. They are spectacular. They are also enormous. Were I to dedicate my efforts to filling them with pricey, indulgent items, there would be more gifts and more money in each stocking than there were under the tree. So I made myself a cup of hot cider, spiked it with whatever was convenient and took a page from my mother’s playbook. Let me talk you through it:

The fruit is key—oranges are the best, but any non-bruising fruit will work. Those huge navel oranges take up a ton of space. Next, we move on to 'gift essentials.' That’s any gift that you’re going to have to buy for your child at some point. That includes toiletries, school supplies and of course, socks. Now I suggest wrapping these—it gives the illusion that there actually is a gift in there. Moving on, chocolate. Hersey’s Kisses or anything 'fun size' fills nooks and crannies nicely. Finally, the part of the socking stuffing I like to refer to as 'The Prestige,' the final phase of the illusion. Before you do anything, put one nice gift all the way down in the toe—a little piece of jewelry or a video game—but as far back as you can get it. That way, it’s the last thing they open; thus diverting any analysis of the stocking's additional contents. And voila. It doesn’t work very well, but it saves you from spending hundreds of dollars on junk and buys you 20 extra minutes of sleep in the morning. Merry Christmas!

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