Ever wonder why people put oranges in Christmas stockings? Here’s some insight as to why Christmas oranges in stockings happen and should still happen even today.
Not unlike millions of other children, I received an orange in my Christmas stocking on Christmas morning growing up. Thankfully, I love eating oranges and was thankful to have a big juicy orange to peel and eat while I waited for everyone else to wake up so we could open our presents.
And like millions of others, I eventually asked my parents why we always got an orange in the toe of our Christmas stockings.
My mother explained to me that an orange used to be considered a special treat, especially during the Great Depression. Her mother was born and raised in England and had lived during that time period. She was always thankful to receive an orange on Christmas day, and so in honor of my Grandmother, and to help me remember my origins and be grateful, we continued on the orange in stocking tradition.
I have loved the Christmas oranges tradition and have continued it on in my home with my own children as an adult. But, I have been curious if there was more to the story of oranges in stockings. I discovered a few different reasons why people put oranges or tangerines or clementines (and sometimes apples or pomegranates) in their stockings.
Why People Put Christmas Oranges in Stockings
1. Saint Nicholas and the Three Bags of Gold
The tradition of Christmas stockings themselves stem from a story of Saint Nicholas and so does the story of oranges in them.
There are various tellings of this story, but it goes something like this:
St. Nicholas, who was a rich bishop, born in the 4th century of present-day Turkey, once learned of a shopkeeper who was poor and unable to find husbands for his three daughters as they didn’t have money for dowries. The man worried what would become of his very beautiful daughters after he died. However, the man was very proud and would not accept money or charity from others. Yet, St. Nicholas still wished to help. He, therefore, decided to help in secret.
One day he secretly tossed three bags of gold down the chimney while they slept. Each bag (or ball) of gold happened to land in each of the daughters’ stockings which fortuitously were hung by the fire to dry.
The family awoke the next morning and found the gold and were, of course, overjoyed at the generosity they had received anonymously. The daughters were then able to pay their dowries and wed, ensuring their father peace knowing they would be taken care of after he was no longer around.
This story led to people hanging stockings by their fireplaces, hoping that they too might be blessed with gifts from others.
The “gold bags” or “gold balls” in the story of St. Nicholas are hard for us to replicate today, so instead, we use the citrus look-a-likes of oranges, tangerines, or clementines.
2. Oranges Were an Expensive Luxury
Despite oranges becoming less expensive and more available by the late 19th century thanks to transportation and oranges being grown in southern Europe and the Mediterranean, and in California and Florida, they were very expensive and hard to come by for a long time. Oranges were often reserved for only the wealthy and the elite, something only the very rich could afford to eat during the year.
When poor individuals saved up for an orange, it really was a special treat then to receive, especially on Christmas morning. Many times they ate their oranges in pottages and pies during the 12 Days of Christmas (which traditionally starts on Christmas Day) or made marmalades with them.
3. Oranges Were a Treat During the Great Depression
Like I explained a bit at the beginning of this post, the Great Depression of the 1930s created financial burdens for millions of families. People didn’t have the means to buy gifts for their children.
Oranges were not usually consumed during the year either unless you lived in places they grew naturally as people turned to eating homegrown and homemade foods as it was cheaper than buying items from the market.
It was considered a true luxury to find and buy something as “exotic” as an orange for Christmas.
4. Oranges Symbolize the Season of Giving
As we learned in the story of St. Nicholas and poor shopkeeper with three daughters, the gifts the man received were ones given in generosity, without thought about receiving a gift in return.
Thus, giving of oranges (balls of gold) in Christmas stockings is a symbol of charity and giving. Oranges in stockings serve as a reminder to care for others who are in need and less fortunate than you.
Also, because the orange separates easily into segments, it is an ideal and easy fruit to share with others.
Lastly, receiving oranges in stockings has become a tradition. It’s something millions of people have done over centuries in various countries, of various incomes. It’s one of those things people just do because it’s always been done, like having a Christmas tree or hanging up Christmas stockings or displaying a nativity set each year.
And that is why in large part I believe this orange in Christmas stocking tradition should continue. It has a positive history and tradition, one of charity and poverty.
I will teach my children about why Christmas oranges are part of their stockings because it helps them reflect on how blessed they are to live in such affluence today.
Additional Books and Movies about Christmas Oranges in Stockings
If you are looking for some fun movies and books about Christmas oranges, check out the following!
An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco.
Chances are you may enjoy these other Christmas posts too:
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- 9 Fun Ways to Countdown to Christmas as a Family
- 25 Days fo Christmas: 40+ Best Children’s Nativity Books