Mothers make holiday cheer. Their Christmas stockings remain empty.

A mother and daughter at a Christmas tree
Why are people on social media talking about moms having empty stockings at Christmas? (Getty Creative)

It’s Christmas, and in some families, mom’s stocking is the only one not getting filled — at least, according to social media, which is flooded with posts about the lack of attention paid to mothers over the holidays. What's going on?

“Found out that one of my friends has always had an empty stocking on Christmas, despite filling her [stockings for her] husband and kids, and while I know my response should have been to text her husband like ‘DUDE,’ I am instead toting her 12-year-old daughter to Target on a mission this week,” one user on X (formerly Twitter) wrote this week. The post comes after a resurfaced video on TikTok featured a mom whose husband just noticed after 10 years that her stocking is the only one sitting empty — despite a pile of presents for the rest of the family. There’s even a trend on TikTok of kids learning that their mom buys her own Christmas gifts, because otherwise, there would be nothing for her.

Showing just how much mothers do for the holidays is not a new trend: Saturday Night Live spoofed the concept in 2020, with Kristen Wiig’s character showing off her one gift (a robe) while her kids and husband talk about all the other amazing things they received for the holidays. Following the sketch, moms took to the internet to explain how the sketch was more like a documentary, with one writing online at the time, “Here I am in my robe with a cold coffee and a garbage bag full of everyone else's wrapping paper I picked up.”

Why people are fed up

Yet now, it seems like the joke is a lot less funny, with people pointing out how creating holiday magic often lands on women — because it’s expected that they’ll care for the needs of everyone else around the holidays. As Gemma Hartley wrote for the Huffington Post earlier this year, it’s not like the rest of the year is much different for mothers, who may plan birthday parties and send out gifts for other occasions; it’s just that during the holidays, everything “ramps up.” (Recently, Reby Herdy posted a video on TikTok of herself expressing anger at how her husband handled the task of getting their son a cake for his birthday — only to end up with a melted ice cream cake he left in the fridge.)

“There are more mental lists to juggle, more commitments on the calendar to keep track of, more tasks to delegate,” Hartley wrote. “There is more pressure to make things magical for those around you. It takes a lot of unseen and under-appreciated effort to keep everything humming along smoothly.”

Where the disconnect is

Laura Danger, an educator who speaks about domestic labor on her That Darn Chat account, spoke with Yahoo Life about this growing trend, and says these videos make her sad because it’s a trend that goes viral every single year. But, she says, “I feel like this year is different from past years, with people challenging how normalized it is."

When it comes to seeing videos of, say, a mom looking at her empty stocking, Danger says it’s often because “socially, a lot of men are not expected to put their energy into thoughtful and caring things like buying people presents, or planning holiday traditions or the little special moments.”

Danger says there’s little societal value placed on creating these holiday moments, even when people are actively enjoying them. That can make women struggle to speak up about the uneven balance of labor, because “it would be silly to be upset over a little stocking,” even though “that’s what the holidays are made for, and what makes us feel cared for.”

Danger notes that part of creating more equality in this type of domestic labor starts with shifting culture. There are endless sitcom jokes about a man forgetting his anniversary. “It becomes the butt of the joke that men are so careless and not thoughtful,” she says. “But there’s this tide change, with everyone fed up about it. The truth of it has been so in our face for so long, it's refreshing to see everybody back these women up.”

And one silver lining? There are still a few shopping days before Christmas. Get on it!