The Swiss relationship with socks is much like its relationship with the world. One of enduring, neutral, pragmatism.
Socks are what you put on your foot between your skin and your shoe. They are wool or cotton. They are black (work) or white (sports). A true Swiss sock is of medium quality and medium price. Of course, there are the packs of 6 pairs that suddenly come off a boat from some far-off place which crowd out your domestic sock drawer and make it impossible to close… but these are anomalies and generally regarded as a nuisance.
The great Swiss sock of old was the hiking sock or the ski sock. These had specific function and purpose as they covered your calf or filled your boot. They were serious and stalwart socks with the chance of a toe-hole being zero. Much like the Swiss military sock, they would last you a lifetime.
Sadly, there is no sock-hanging tradition on Christmas Eve around here. No misshapen once-familiar sock stuffed with treasures to be discovered at first light on Christmas morning. Here, the candies and nuts are delivered on December 6th in a burlap bag by Saint Nicolas. And when it gets dark on Christmas Eve the magical little Christ Child pops around and puts presents under the Christmas trees. These days there is a confusion of characters and nationalities and names. But socks do not figure in any of this.
As a kid in Canada, socks and Christmas went together like wonder bread and jam. At Christmas you would choose your biggest one to be filled up with hard candies, peanuts, an artificial-looking store-bought apple and a navel orange in the toe. The anticipation almost killed you.
At some point in our childhood Christmas careers, we were supplied with felt cut-out Christmas stockings. They were festive as there were applied Christmassy objects such as candy canes, or candles or Christmas trees stuck to them. Sequins added a twinkling celebratory air. Our names were shear-cut at the top. As the greedy eldest, I remember considering the injustice of it all, as Kathleen, the littlest, had the same-sized sock as I. These stood stiff and did not bend and bulge to reveal the filling. They were more beautiful, but also less exciting than their predecessors.
In my sock basket, today, I review my sock collection. I realize my favourites were Christmas presents. There are two pairs of library socks and one pair of Rosie the Riveter “We Can Do It” socks. There is a pair of socks with little non-slip buttons on the bottom. And another pair made with fluffy material impregnated with sandalwood for everlasting health. There are one-toed socks from Japan, too uncomfortable to wear, and too beautiful to throw away. I have even come across a forgotten pair of sneaker flamingo socks.
These socks are decades old and do not regularly adorn my feet. My small Swiss collection (cotton, black and white) gets me through most days perfectly well. However, there are some mornings when just a little something extra is required.
As Christmas approaches this year, I find myself wearing my Christmas socks more and more frequently. Nostalgia? Age? A second childhood? A wish to be light of foot and fancy free? A security blanket on each foot? Too much bad news all over the place?
I have already procured (with great expense and difficulty) some un-Swiss socks as Christmas presents – a pair of lime green and black-striped Mickey Mouse socks and two pairs of fake fur socks. I dream of them lighting up the eyes of the recipients and their keeping them safe in their sock drawer for years to come. I know they will remember who sent them, and hope they offer a minute of calm and courage and comfort as a new day begins.