Christmas stockings bring Arlington Heights family
How 73 homemade Christmas stockings bring Arlington Heights family together
Lorraine Kelly of Arlington Heights and her large extended family simply call it "the wall."
That's their name for the wall that surrounds the fireplace in the family room. Every year around this time it serves as the backdrop for the more than 70 Christmas stockings that has Kelly made starting nearly 50 years ago.
She vividly remembers the event that prompted her handiwork: Kelly developed a blood clot in her leg early in her pregnancy with her 11th child. The doctor prescribed complete bed rest, which ultimately lasted the next two and a half months.
"I had to remain upstairs," Kelly recalls, "so my husband and the rest of the children had to take over."
It was her friend Nancy Sinclair of Arlington Heights who came to the rescue. She came up with the idea of Kelly making the most of her time by sewing Christmas stockings.
"She brought over the material and I designed the pattern. It started from there," says Kelly, a former teacher, who went on to earn a master's degree in deaf education and taught at Kensington School in Arlington Heights.
Each stocking has followed that same pattern. Kelly cut out the shape from red felt and sewed the two pieces together by machine before hand sticking around its edges. She cut out the letters for each name and added holiday embellishments or symbols of their interests to each one.
Over the years, the numbers kept growing, not only with the 11 children, but as the grandchildren and great-grandchildren came.
"You had to be married to get on the wall," Kelly insists. "You couldn't be a boyfriend."
She and her late husband, Bob, eventually had 31 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. While Kelly made one for each of the spouses of her nine daughters and two sons, she stopped when her grandchildren started marrying.
"It got to be too much," she concedes.
The colorful stockings fill the wall now and are the mainstay for a family celebration that takes place every year on Dec. 23. That's when they all descend on Kelly's house for an event that starts out upstairs with appetizers and chili, before moving to the basement for Santa's arrival with presents.
The evening always ends back up in the family room, where, nestled in front of the stockings, they sing Christmas carols, which Kelly loves as a former cantor at St. James Catholic Church in Arlington Heights.
As the matriarch of this large brood -- her husband passed away nine years ago -- Kelly has realized that the stockings have become a symbol of a beloved Christmas holiday, drawing the family together in celebration of the season and of one another.
"It's tradition," says Kelly, 91. "Two years ago, I wanted to send the stockings home with each family, but my children said, 'You can't. It's tradition.'"
In fact, all 11 children have created a "wall" in their own homes to display their Christmas stockings. They have used the same pattern and felt material, making sure they look the same as the originals.
Kelly keeps hers preserved in boxes, which this year several of the children and grandchildren helped bring up from the basement and set out decorating the rest of her home.
"They go up in no time," Kelly says. "Even though they all have their own in their own homes, they still enjoy seeing them up here."