13 Ideas for the Empty Christmas Stocking

Holidays and Special Days / Holidays and Special Days : Litsa

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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!

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11 Comments on "13 Ideas for the Empty Christmas Stocking"

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  1. Laurie  January 9, 2023 at 10:15 pm Reply

    My husband’s stocking sits with my eldest child’s first red Christmas coat, and favorite Christmas outfits my children had as toddlers, in the bottom of the Christmas linens bin. Some years I examine them all, some years I leave them folded and untouched.
    This year when I saw his Christmas ties in the bin, I realized I could sew them into wallets! I made six wallets – for myself and for each of our kids. Grinch, Peanuts, Scrooge, grumpy Santa, Santa with his reindeer, Santa flying in his sleigh. A bit of their Dad’s humor to carry with them each day.

  2. Wendy McQuaid  December 9, 2022 at 11:59 am Reply

    Pennies from Heaven. As I find these pennies I keep them in a jar. Every Christmas when I put my daughters stocking up I add one of these pennies to her stocking. Knowing that she is with me in spirit.

  3. Kasey  September 23, 2022 at 8:40 am Reply

    We asked friends and family to do an act of kindness in my daughter’s name and send her a Christmas card telling her about how they made the world better. We received about 40 cards and put them in her Christmas stocking. We took her Christmas stocking out to her resting place on Christmas day and read all the cards to her. It was really beautiful.

  4. miss anna  February 20, 2022 at 5:49 am Reply

    What fascinating and practical ideas! In my opinion, at Christmas, as important as decorating the house, going on an attractive trip with a travel tour is also great and memorable!

  5. J Nixon  December 24, 2021 at 3:46 am Reply

    Thanks much for the “ empty stocking “ ideas. This will be the first Christmas Holidays without my Mom. She died August 2021.

    I’ll be spending Christmas alone and decided on # 3 and # 9.

    Also an idea I thought of, though it may already be on your site somewhere already…But i know I’ve not read about it.

    Start A Christmas card tradition for your loved one. I thought I would write a small note to my Mom on a Christmas card, and write the year 2021 at the end of the note, and put the card back in her stocking until next year. And write another note on the same card next Christmas, and repeat.

    That way, as the years pass, you can open and read past Christmas messages you’ve wrote on the card to your loved one.

  6. Cheryle Gillingwater  December 21, 2021 at 9:49 am Reply

    What about when our loved one passed on Christmas DAY, that’s the DAY, my husband passed, it’s more than difficult to go through, tho I know of NO- ONE who understands!💔💔💔💔💔💔💔

    • Litsa  December 27, 2021 at 4:04 pm Reply

      It does make things much harder when an anniversary of a death coincides with a holiday, birthday, or other already difficult day. Though there are many others who have experienced that, no one will ever understand your unique grief. Even when we have experienced the same thing as someone else, our grief is uniquely our own. I hope you were able to find ways to take care of yourself through the day this year. I am sure it was incredibly hard.

    • Jenny Lord  December 6, 2022 at 7:48 pm Reply

      Dear Cheryle,
      Sadly enough, I understand… My soul mate, husband passed away on December 4th. Or kids were young. Every Christmas, I become so sad, because all I can think of is that Christmas, when I tried to video the kids opening their presents, as I did every year. It was all I could do to take that video. Things are still not the same, I doubt they every will be. I still can’t celebrate Christmas. It’s so hard to pretend to be happy, when your lifeless inside. The thought of Christmas decorations, and gift giving makes me want to curl up and disappear from sadness and loneliness. It has been 11 years now. I miss him dearly. We were like peas and carrots. I’m just not the same without him. All I can tell you is that time makes it easier to have the pain that you feel. However, I can not tell you that it will get better or that the pain will go away. I will never get over my lost love… 😥

  7. Cheryle Gillingwater  December 21, 2021 at 9:46 am Reply

    What about when our loss was ON CHRISTMAS DAY, that’s the Holiday, my husband passed, it’s even harder, to get through, AND his most favorite Holiday of the Year,

  8. Anne  December 20, 2021 at 7:09 pm Reply

    My husband loved filling the Christmas stockings. Even when the kids were grown we still hung their childhood stockings (which I’d made) and filled them and eventually, added their spouse’s stockings which I’d also made. When the first Christmas without him came around, I just couldn’t do it. Not anything to do with stockings. I explained this to my kids and gave them their stockings. The second Christmas without my husband, I had turned my stocking and my husband’s stocking into pillows that cozied up together in his favorite chair.
    My stocking was made by a friend of my mother’s when I was about 10 years old. I made my husband’s stocking for our first Christmas as a married couple when I was 19. These are a couple of really old stockings/pillows now.

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