Holly and sleigh bells and mistletoe and presents are all a large part of Christmas for people who celebrate the traditions of the season. Christmas stockings are also a favorite holiday decoration and receptacle for candy and small gifts. But oranges and tangerines? Does your family include them in the keiki’s stash of other gifts? Or have they become a tradition of the past?
An orange or tangerine nicely fills the toe of a Christmas stocking, so it makes sense for Santa or his helpers to include one. These citrus fruits are at the peak of their harvest in winter, so they are plentiful – in some places they’re the only fresh fruit available at this time of year.
Origins of the Tradition
Christmas stockings with oranges inside became popular by accident. Folklore has it that Bishop Nicholas (who was born in Turkey in the fourth century A.D. and became Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus) dropped three bags of gold coins down the chimney of a poor family with three daughters to give them each a dowry needed to land a husband. The bags of gold landed in stockings the girls had hung to dry by their fireplace. The heat from the fire, the myth continues, melted the gold coins into gold balls, which today is symbolized through the use of oranges.
In Merrie Olde England, gifts were always delivered in stockings and the Christmas tree as we know it was not used. But in the United States, both trees and stockings have been used for at least 100 years. Oranges from California and Florida had become commonplace winter fruits throughout the United States by the 1880s. At the time, the newly completed transcontinental railroad made it possible to ship these long-lasting fruits great distances, supplying people in far-flung regions with delicious, nutritious food in the dead of winter.
By the turn of the twentieth century, oranges and tangerines were well established as stocking stuffers, not only in the U.S. but also in other countries that celebrate Christmas. Children of that era were more accustomed to natural snacks and homemade baked goodies and candies than today’s keiki, who mostly subsist on pre-made supermarket food. Kids in that bygone era considered oranges a great treat when they found one in their Christmas bounty.
Other Fun Christmas Trivia
Did you know that candy canes also date back to the time of Saint Nick? They represent his crozier, or the hooked staff that bishops used to symbolize their office. Part of a blessing given in some countries on Saint Nicholas day (usually December 6) includes this about candy canes:
May these sweets, these candy canes,
Be a sign of Advent joy for us.
May these candy canes,
Shaped just like your Bishop’s staff,
Be for us a sign of your benevolent care.
Saint Nicholas has been dead for many centuries, but his memory and many of the traditions revolving around him and his good deeds live on in the hearts and minds of people in the fast-paced twenty-first century.
Oranges and tangerines: http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1853/
St. Nicholas Center: www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/blessing-candy-canes/