Christmas Food

The Best Christmas Present: Oranges!

Today, unlike my articles of recent weeks, I’m not offering you a strange tradition or a history lesson with this new text on “Christmas fruit”. No, today I have for you a lovely legend and a life lesson that we tend to forget, especially at Christmas time. Something to warm your heart and offer you a beautiful thought to share in turn.

And I plan to do that by telling you about… the orange in the Christmas stocking!

Orange de Noël
Photo: ROMAN ODINTSOV

The Supposed Origin of the Orange in the Christmas Stocking

Once upon a time, there was a poor widower who spread happiness all around him. Despite the fate that had deprived him of his wife, he raised his three daughters in love and shared this benevolence with the people of his village. Always willing to help his fellow man, the man was well known, as much for his misfortune as for his generosity.

Although he had very little, he refused any charity from his neighbors, assuring them that he and his daughters had everything they needed to be happy. Others were far more needy than he, so it didn’t matter that they didn’t live in a castle, as long as they had three meals a day and love, they were rich.

As his daughters grew into women, their father lamented the fact that he had no dowry to marry them off with. He couldn’t offer them the happiness of starting their own home with his meager means, and despaired of being able to secure their future.

On Christmas Eve, when the whole household was asleep, St. Nicholas, who had heard of the widower’s kindness, entered their home and, seeing the freshly washed socks drying by the fireplace, placed a golden ball in three of them, before disappearing into the night.

On Christmas morning, the father and three daughters discovered the gift laid out for them. And so it was that the father was able to marry off his three daughters, who in turn spread happiness and love to those around them.

Boule de Noël orange
Photo: Element5 Digital 

The Supposed Origin of the Orange in the Christmas Stocking (Bis)

If this is the story of how we came to hang socks on the mantelpiece, how did the golden ball become an orange (or vice versa)?

It’s worth remembering that, coming from warm countries, oranges were a rare and expensive commodity before globalization. A few oranges could be worth a whole day’s wages!

Since citrus season falls right in the middle of the holiday season, it became a tradition to give an orange to children at Christmas. It was a rare and delicious gift, just like candy or sweets. Just imagine: fresh fruit in winter a few decades ago was a real ray of sunshine (and vitamin C).

Yes, back then, a simple orange was a wonderful gift for a child (and for adults too).

Orange sur une table avec des biscuits en pain d'épices
Photo: EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA

The Moral of This Story

Over the past few years, I’ve been gradually taming the holiday season: I cook a lot, I take part in enjoyable events, I see the people I want to see and, above all, I’ve come to discover the true meaning I want to give to Christmas.

As in the fairy tale, Christmas is all about being happy with the people you love and who make you feel good.

As in the tradition of the orange, Christmas is about pleasing one another, whether it’s a huge present or an orange.

In the end, even though I still receive a mountain of presents from my mom at the age of 30, I know they’re a bit like oranges. Full of love, given because I’m important to her and, above all, because I’m the best, kindest and most wonderful daughter she’s ever had (yes, yes, I’m an only child, but that’s okay!).

Let me reassure you: she’s spoiled too, and I often tell her that she’s the best mother I’ve ever had!

Here’s a painting of the two of us that I gave her two years ago for Christmas, painted by Isabelle Desrochers, an artist she adores.

I grew up thinking that there was a time when it was sad to receive only an orange, and yet! Maybe instead of telling your children and grandchildren: “You’re lucky, there was a time when children got oranges for Christmas!”, you should tell them about the origin of the wonderful gift of the orange in the stocking.

The Magic of the Holidays

So, this December 21, stop putting pressure on yourself, share the magic of the holidays, give, receive, and do it out of love, not obligation. Remember, there was a time when the best parents could give were oranges. And it wasn’t because they were poor, far from it! It was simply, truly, a wonderful gift.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday season, filled with happiness, love and loved ones, as well as oranges, apples, cranberries and pickles.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Audrey Martel is a biologist who graduated from the University of Montreal. After more than ten years in the field of scientific animation, notably for Parks Canada and the Granby Zoo, she joined Nature Conservancy of Canada to take up new challenges in scientific writing. She then moved into marketing and joined Leo Studio. Full of life and always up for a giggle, or the discovery of a new edible plant, she never abandoned her love for nature and writes articles for both Nature sauvage and the Laidback Gardener.

12 comments on “The Best Christmas Present: Oranges!

  1. A beautiful story, thank you for sharing!

  2. Thank you for this lovely story Audrey, I always had an orange or clementine in my Christmas stocking, just glad it wasn’t a lump of coal. The painting of your Mother and you is beautiful.

  3. Oranges are very common and grow very well in home gardens here. I grew citrus trees (nursery stock) in the 1990s. Yet, oranges and Mandarin oranges were a tradition for Christmas when I was a kid. Most people in California are not from California. The tradition came from other places and another time. I learned that in New England prior to the 1960s, citrus from Florida were still somewhat expensive. Mandarin oranges are likely more of a Californian accent on the tradition. They are also traditional for Californian Chinese New Year more than a month later. As a kid, I also learned that nuts from South America were also traditional in stockings because, a long time ago, they were as rare as citrus was in some regions. We got walnuts and almonds that grew in local oranges, which was weird, but we also got pecans, which to us, was quite exotic. They came from Oklahoma!

  4. Oranges and tangerines showed up in early December in Aleppo, Syria. They were so expensive then that parents made every effort to have a few on the Eve of the New Year’s late dinner table. Our Sunday school’s special gift were large juicy oranges, which we kept to be shared with the rest of the family. It is a precious gift in your story, but to us they kept growing in our sketchbooks and drawings on the only livable sitting room white chalked walls. Thanks for the truth behind the golden balls hanging now on our Xmas tree.
    Varty

  5. Lovely story. My mother remembers getting an orange in her Christmas stocking but didn’t know the story behind it. Wishing you a wonderful holiday season.

  6. Laurie Macdonald

    What a lovely story, thank you. We always thought the oranges in our stockings were to keep us children quiet and delay breakfast an extra hour ! Wishing you & yours a very Merry Christmas and much love and joy for the holidays.

  7. Thank you for this lovely lesson! I do it, but didn’t know the story behind it. Nuts were a thing too when I was a child. I’ll have to look that onen up as well now. Merry Christmas and Thank you for the articles you provide. I love reading them. ???????

    • Those question marks were supposed to be emojis representing a tree and Mr & Mrs Clause. Lol.

  8. Raisa Ghersi

    Beautiful legend! My father told me that he and his sisters received oranges as gifts at Christmas. He did not know the origin of this tradition. Thank you very much Audrey, for bringing us this beautiful memory. Merry Christmas to everyone!

  9. Oh, I love this story. Whether there is any truth to the origin story it is important to remember the thought behind the words. We all, living here in North America, should be more appreciative of all the good things we have available to us (on so many different levels) and because of this we should be open and generous to those among us who have less than we do.

  10. Louise Holland

    Lovely article! Thank you, Audrey.

  11. Susan Dale Odorizzi

    My mom grew up in the depression and she often talked about feeling her stocking and smelling the wonderful orange in it. How much she loved it. We always got an orange in our stocking because of it. Thankyou for the memory.

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