I was looking at my tree the other night and my eyes landed on the eight stockings I have rigged up to a string hanging from an old curtain rod I have been remiss in removing.  With no fireplace in this house-  yet – I have no mantle and no place to put my beautiful stocking holders.  So, I made do and, though pathetic, they are hanging.

There was a time when I had no stockings, no tree, no Christmas spirit.  A time when I thought Christmas had lost its meaning and joy.  When I simply preferred to stay at home, cuddled on my couch with hot cocoa and a favorite, non Christmas, movie.  I was not a Scrooge, I did for others, I just didn’t care to get swallowed up in the jolliness of it.  Friends tried to get me to decorate, listen to Christmas music and get caught up in the shopping.  Generally, they were disappointed.

And then I got my dog, Ali.  I doted on this little puppy and decided she needed a stocking for her Christmas bones.  So, I put up a small tree and a little stocking.  I took my old stocking from my parents house and suddenly had two.  It didn’t get stuffed, but I somehow, started to have a little spirit.  Especially when I watched Ali tearing into hers and discovering all of the great treats from the doggy bakery.

For years, I had two stockings.  I faithfully hung them, stuffed Ali’s, and packed them safely away after Christmas was over.

And then I met my husband.  Just like that, I had three stockings.  And for the first time in years, mine actually got stuffed.  It was as if my husband reminded Santa that I was here.  During our courtship, we added our second dog, Bud.  The next year, we had four stockings.

We married and found out we were pregnant.  As badly as I wanted to add a stocking to the mantle, I had to wait until Katie was born.  And then I went crazy.  At six months old she had a stocking overflowing onto the floor.  Things she didn’t need but I wanted her to have.  We had Sarah and then I had six stockings.  Running out of room on my mantle, I remember grinning ear to ear, happy to have filled the surface with evidence of a full house.

I got pregnant with Megan and six weeks before she was born, I found our last dog, Lexi, sitting alone by the fire hydrant by our house.  Even thought I knew this would not go over well with my husband, who was already done with dog hair and the babies getting into the dog food, I snatched her up and took her home.  I tried – sort of – to find her a home, but it was evident she was meant to be with us.

That year…  I added two more stockings to the mantle.

Eight stockings.  Hanging, expectantly, for Santa to fill.  With candy, toys, movies, and trinkets.  Specialized for each owner.  Reflecting their personalities, their favorite things, and their place in our family.  I look forward to the opening of the Christmas stockings.  It is my favorite part of Christmas morning.

As I look at my attempt to have them at least hang this year, I know next year there will be one less.  As my first stocking holder nears the end of her life, I think back with great pride and honor to know she taught me the importance of the Christmas stocking.  She reintroduced me to the tradition that now fills me with love, hope, joy…. the spirit of Christmas.  It seems fitting that the first stocking that hung is the first to go.  As if it represents my growth and my maturity in my life.  Like Ali is sending me the message that her job is done.  She found me when I thought I had no one and is leaving me when she knows I have everyone.

And when I pack the stockings lovingly away this year, making sure I wrap them carefully, and lay them flat, I’ll touch hers a little longer, letting my fingers drift over the glittery letters in her name, the fake fur at the top, and the soft velvet of the foot.  The hanging loop will be tattered and worn, evidence of eleven wonderful Christmases with the owner in them.  I won’t be sad.  I’ll be appreciative.  For this stocking represents a rebirth, a consciousness, an awareness, that this dog gave to me.

And for that…  there will only be humility, appreciation, and great love.

Merry Christmas all.  Hold your stockings dear!