Patricia Finney Daniels welcomed two great-great-nieces into the family earlier this year, but little Stella and Olivia will receive their official welcome this Christmas, when Daniels presents them with personalized red, green and white holiday stockings.
“When you get your stocking, you know you’ve arrived,” said Daniels’ daughter, Maggie Simon. “It is a rite of passage.”
Daniels, 86, has made more than 120 Christmas stockings for family members, including her three siblings, their children and hers, spouses, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
But don’t imagine Daniels knitting in a rocking chair. Until she retired in 2000, after 50 years as a forensic serologist with the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office, she made Christmas stockings during down time in the crime lab and from a hallway bench at the criminal court building at Tulane and Broad, while she waited to testify.
Working was important to Daniels. She was 36 when her husband, James, a riverboat pilot, suffered a fatal heart attack, leaving her to raise five young children, including a 6-week-old.
Times were hard, and knitting Christmas stockings was a way to show she cared. “I don’t knit for money; I knit for love,” Daniels said.
Spanning more than 60 years, her Christmas stockings are treasured, especially now that Daniels’ eyesight has grown too dim to knit. Stella and Olivia will be the last family members to receive her personalized stockings.
Born and raised in the French Quarter, Daniels was 5 when Mother Navias at St. Louis Cathedral School taught her to knit. Her 14-month-older brother, Peter Finney, started kindergarten “and I threw a fit,” Daniels said. “So the nuns told my mother to bring me to school and I could sit in the back of the class” and learn to knit.
Some time later, Daniels knitted her first wearable creation. “It was the ugliest sweater you ever wanted to see,” she said. “It was pink with a green collar and cuffs, and I actually wore it.”
After graduating from Ursuline Academy, Daniels attended Loyola University and continued knitting. “I made argyle socks for my boyfriends,” she said.
Daniels raised her five children in Lakeview and moved back to the Quarter after Hurricane Katrina ravaged their Gen. Diaz Street home. Her weakening eyesight worsened, “and they took my car keys away,” Daniels said of her caring children. “But I could still knit.”
That was before a stroke in July took its toll. In recent years, Daniels has taught her daughters to knit, and they are teaching theirs. “And I’ve got the pattern,” said daughter Tricia France, who will make sure the Christmas stocking tradition lives on.
It takes “a week or two” to make an 18-inch stocking, Daniels said. Her early ones, sporting Santas, are made of wool that tends to yellow, while her newer ones are acrylic and bright with candy canes. Including names such as Mom, Daddy, Kathleen, John, Peter and Tom, the stockings hang from fireplace mantels, staircases and makeshift places across the country, including New Orleans, Boston and Washington, D.C.
“If you don’t have a fireplace, you find a place to hang your stocking, even a bar,” Simon said.
Lynne Jensen writes about New Orleans community events and people. Contact her at email@example.com.