Christmas MicroHistory 3: Shoes

Monday, December 21st, 2020

This is the THIRD of our special Christmas-themed micro-histories in which we will embrace the task of demonstrating how an unexpected subject not only has a history but is massively important and interesting – in just 15 minutes! We will start with a shared example and then have just five minutes each to make a case for an interesting history on that very unexpected subject. Contributions will be rigorously timed and you – dear listeners – will get to vote on SM on what YOU think was the most interesting fact you heard today.

Today’s topic is SHOES – nothing quite says Christmas like shoes! – Shoes were not simply a noxious deterrent for evil sprites at Christmas time, but a precursor to the now customary stockings as receptacles for yuletide gifts. Earlier depictions of St Nicholas associate him with dropping gold coins down the chimney, which in sixteenth-century Holland similarly led to the tradition of children placing their shoes on the hearth on the eve of the Feast of St Nicholas, awaking in the morning to find them filled with present and sweets. In Italian folklore an old woman named Befana (sometimes referred to as the ‘Christmas Witch’) delivered gifts to children on the eve of Epiphany (6 January) slipping them into shoes left by the fireplace. These earlier chimney-related European traditions no doubt passed into usage in the US through patterns of migration: the spread of Christmas traditions is of course intimately linked with the spread of people around the globe.! Who knew! Shoes are of course all about the politics of sneakers, via the brilliant Public Enemy’s ‘politics of the sneaker pimps’ track on their album He Got Game, and of course it’s all about the French Revolution and the banishment of high heels! Who knew!

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