- Author: Launa Herrmann
Published on: December 20, 2019
December is harvest time for citrus, especially oranges. Drive past any grove and you can't help but notice the golden “almost glowing” globes of ripening fruit. Certainly, the two trees in my side yard are hard to miss and difficult to pass by. Their limbs are bent from all that juicy weight, bowing in the wind and bobbing to the beat of rain.
Today, I pick the first orange of the season to slice up and to taste, hoping the rest of the crop is mature enough to harvest. Savoring its sweetness and fragrance, I think back to growing up on a 20-acre grove in Southern California. I recall my father one Christmas gifting his parents with a crate of oranges he had handpicked and packed. He shipped the crate by rail to the small rural town in Indiana where they lived. At that time in the 1940s, getting your hands on a freshly picked ripened orange was both a rarity and a treat. Unless you lived in California or Florida, citrus was unavailable at local small-town markets. Unfortunately for my grandparents, the orange crate was left outside on the station platform overnight in below zero temperatures, and by the time they took delivery the next day, the fruit was ruined.
In the 1930s, oranges were also special and scarce. Most families during the Great Depression could not afford to buy such expensive fruit. If someone did splurge and placed an orange inside your Christmas stocking, you considered such a gift a quite a luxury.
In my search for the origin of the phrase “an orange in every stocking,” I ran across the familiar explanation of St. Nicholas, the rich bishop from the 4th century who tossed three sacks of gold down a chimney to help a poor shopkeeper who had no money for a dowry for each of his three beautiful daughters. As the tale goes, the gold miraculously landed in each of the girls' stockings that they had hung to dry by the fire. Now with enough money for their dowries, the girls wed and lived happily ever after. Of course, as the story spread, the tradition of hanging stockings by one's fireplace took off. Eventually wishing for an orange at Christmas was seen as a more affordable alternative to hoping for gold ... you get the picture.
Of course, one wonders if retailers, wholesalers, advertising and marketing played a role in connecting stockings to oranges to holiday traditions in order to sell consumers more products. An online article caught my eye dated December 21, 2018 by Jackie Mansky: “Why We Should Bring Back the Tradition of the Christmas Orange — The appeal of a last-minute stocking stuffer.” I'll leave you to leisurely read the article, while I enjoy my freshly picked tree-ripened orange.
Here's the link: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/why-we-should-bring-back-tradition-christmas-orange-180971101/