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Taken from The Tesco Eat Happy Project: An Orange in Your Christmas Stocking (2015 12 06)(Web)
So where did the whole orange in my stocking come from anyway? For as far back as most people (and their parents) can remember there has always been an orange or clementine in the bottom of their stockings on Christmas morning. It seems to matter not whether the stocking was in Europe or Spain or North America; a citrus fruit is there and always in the toe! So why and where did this tradition come from and why do we continue it today?
Here is why the orange itself was a special treat. Prior to the 1900s oranges were not commonplace and if they were to be acquired it was at great expense. They were grown in China and India and later in Spain so if you were located outside of these areas growing your own oranges would be nearly impossible. Lack of refrigeration made the transportation and storing of the fresh fruit difficult. This made oranges a luxury afforded only by the wealthy or on occasion for the common man if one saved up for the special treat. Due to its rareness and expense having or giving an orange was a status symbol and a measure of wealth and success. Receiving an orange for Christmas was a very special treat and something children would look forward to all year. Fast forward to War time in America and to the time of the depression, although the transportation of fruit was more common and less expensive by this time, funds and resources were scarce. As such during these times both an orange and handful of nuts, such as walnuts, were considered rare and a gift suitable for the holidays. Based on the scarcity of such treats, the orange was still considered a luxury at this time.
Okay, so we understand that they were expensive and hard to get, but why in the toe of my stocking? This part is based on a legend you likely know quite well. There lived a man in Turkey during the 4th century who inherited a substantial sum of wealth. We will call this man Nicholas. Instead of using his good fortune to indulge himself, Nicholas looked for ways that he could help other people. One such instance involved a man and his three daughters. The legend tells of the plight of this man who was too poor to offer a dowry for his daughter to get married. Nicholas heard of their predicament and decided to help. During the night, so as to not be found out, he crept to the house of the poor man and tossed bags of gold coin down the chimney for the daughters. The bags of coins landed in the daughters’ stockings which were hung by the fire. When the daughters awoke the next morning and went to their stockings, they found the gold coins. The coins allowed them to get married (and presumably live happily ever after!)
The oranges in our stockings today are representative of those gold coins and clearly the generosity of a man who thought more of others than he did of himself.
It is more blessed to give than to receive.
Be careful, your generosity may surprise you!
Merry giving season!
To find out all about the history of the orange in our stockings, check out the Why’d You Eat That? .wordpress.com blog on Day 4: Oranges (Martin-Ullrich, Esther, 2011 12 04).