Holiday grief triggers are everywhere, we don’t have to tell you that. Opening that box of decorations is difficult enough. If you felt some combination of overwhelm, tears, nausea, and numbness when you found your deceased family member’s Christmas stocking, you’re not alone. It is one of those intense reminders of your loved one’s absence. And then you’re left with the flood of questions: what do I do with my a dead loved one’s stocking? Is it okay to hang a dead family member’s stocking? Is is okay NOT to hang a dead family member’s stocking?
We’ll start with the simple answer – there is no right or wrong answer to holiday grief traditions. It needs to be whatever works for you and your family. That said, what “works” doesn’t mean it won’t still be hard and painful. It just means that it will hopefully bring some small comfort that can exist alongside the pain. With that in mind, we have a few suggestions, many of which have been shared with us over the years.
Creative Ideas for the “Empty Stocking”
Ideas if you’d like to keep and hang the stocking
1. Put out a pen and paper and ask people to fill the stocking with their favorite memory of the person. These could be holiday memories or any memories! Read them privately or as a family.
2. Fill the stocking with gifts you would have bought and given your loved one. After the holiday, take the gifts from your deceased family member’s Christmas stocking and donate them to a local charity or shelter.
3. Fill the stocking with your loved one’s favorite candy, cookies, or other treats. Bring them out for everyone to enjoy while opening gifts or during dessert.
4. Fill the stocking with gifts you would have bought and given your loved one. Give the gifts to other friends or family members who you know would also appreciate the gift with a note about why your loved one would have loved it.
5. Put out a pen and paper and ask people to write down one “gift” (physical or not physical!) that the person gave them that they will always remember and cherish.
6. Fill the stocking with notes to the person written on “flying wish paper“. Light them in the evening, on New Year’s Eve, or at some other meaningful time.
7. Use the stocking be filled with shared family gifts (gifts that will be for everyone). This is especially good for a deceased family member’s Christmas stocking in families with kids who have lost a parent or sibling, though it works for an all-adult household too.
8. Turn their stocking into your stocking. You can choose to leave their name on it (if the stocking had a name) or you cover it with fabric and write/embroider your name on it.
9. Use the stocking to fill it with gifts “from” the person. Now, this one is ideal if you have young kids, to fill with gifts “from” their parent, sibling, or grandparent who died. This can also be a nice place to put gifts for yourself “from” your loved one. If you know your partner or parent often bought you jewelry, video games, etc, treat yourself to those things and put them in the stocking for Christmas morning.
Ideas if you’d like to part with or repurpose your deceased family member’s stocking
10. Create a keepsake from the stocking. Cut out a small heart, star, or other shape from the deceased family member’s Christmas stocking and put it in a frame or turn it into an ornament. You can make several of these to share with other family members who might find them meaningful.
11. Put or hang something else in place of the stocking. Some families light a candle above the stocking the first year, then in future years they transition just to keeping the candle. We’ve heard from others who hang a star, ornament, or other keepsake in the spot where the stocking would have hung.
12. Don’t hang any stockings. The first year after a loss the idea of hanging the stocking can feel like too much of a trigger. At the same time, not having the stocking up alongside the others may feel like too much. If this is the case, you may opt to skip stockings altogether. You can always revisit next year!
13. Say goodbye to their stocking. Not wanting to keep a deceased family member’s Christmas stocking is normal and absolutely okay. Remember that your connection to your loved one lives in your memories and heart, not in physical objects. If you are ready to part with their stocking, give it a squeeze, say goodbye, and put it in a donation bag or fabric recycling bin.
Have other ideas for what to do with a dead family member’s stocking? Leave a comment to keep the list going!