Photo: Shutterstock / Lester Balajadia
If you can get over how odd it is to hang hosiery on your mantel once a year, you can usually get away with a pretty good haul: fun trinkets, candy canes, chocolate truffles and an orange. An orange? Why would there be an orange in Christmas stockings?
There’s quite a bit written about Christmas stocking traditions and a few bits about where oranges came into the mix. Here are a few sources that could explain why we put oranges in our socks.
Ancient Asian Myths (Spoiler: Someone Dies)
Oranges are native to Southeast Asia, and the Chinese have cultivated them since antiquity. The Chinese believed oranges brought joy, good luck and warded off evil. Ancient people considered orange and red fruits as magical, likely because of their vibrant colors, so it was an honor to receive one as a gift. Oranges are also known as the fruit of life in Japan. There’s even a Japanese myth that an emperor sent one of his heroes to “the Eternal Land”–likely southern China–to obtain an orange so he could gain eternal life. Unfortunately, the emperor died before the hero returned. Sad story, but it wasn’t the orange’s fault.
St. Nick & Three Poor Husbandless Girls
There’s a more modern religious connection. It is said that St. Nicholas, a wealthy and generous bishop, heard of a poor, widowed father of three girls who was worried his three daughters would never find husbands. Saddened by this tale, St. Nick sneaked into the widower’s house and put bags of gold in each of the girl’s stockings, which were set out to dry by the fire (it must have been laundry day). The next morning, the girls discovered the treasures and rejoiced: They could now afford to pay dowries and marry! Today’s orange offering is said to represent the gold that St. Nick shared.
Scarcity and a Little Help from the Adman
Today we can get oranges whenever we want, but fresh oranges were once considered treasures. Before fast transit and refrigeration, the fruit was scarce and expensive, only available in larger cities along the railroads. Laura Ingalls Wilder referenced her delight in receiving an orange at least twice in her autobiographies of pioneer life. Then the Sunkist brand was created in 1908, making oranges the first produce to have its own ad campaign. The demand for oranges exploded across the country, and they became a symbol of sunny California prosperity.
So Spread the Sunshine
Practically speaking, orange segments are already gift-packaged and ready to share. And we all know they are good for you. But did you know they are an excellent source of potassium and vitamins A and C, which help skin and hair cells grow? So no matter what legend you believe, when you share an orange, you’re giving the gift of beauty. It sure beats a lump of coal.
Need some more vitamin C in your life? Check out these refreshing citrus recipes.