Do you remember if Santa ever left you oranges, or even an apple, in your stocking? I do. The cool stuff was on top and the remainder of my brother’s and my stockings was, indeed, fruit.
I remember as a child growing up that every Christmas Eve when we were asleep, Santa Claus would pay us a visit and leave behind an assortment of gifts. It’s funny that Santa never wrapped our gifts, but he did for some of my friends down the street. Hmm… At our house, wrapped gifts were from mom and dad, and grandparents.
Almost forgotten, after finding Santa’s gifts each year, were the stuffed stockings. As I got older, the smaller items that can be put into a stocking have become more and more interesting to me as some really nice gifts are smaller in size.
But the fruit! What’s up with that?
Without fail, each of us would find our stockings filled with oranges, tangerines, the occasional apple, assorted nuts, and maybe some chocolates. While I was eager to eat the candy, I never paid much attention to the fruit and nuts.
I remember once asking my parents why Santa would think that giving us ‘groceries’ (fruit and nuts) was such a good idea. Although I do not remember their exact answer, it went something like this: “Santa has been leaving fresh fruit, nuts and candy in children’s stockings for a long time.”
Long ago, these items must have been considered wonderful treats because there was no way to get fresh fruit and nuts all over the world year-round. For all but the very wealthy, this Christmas gift was the only fresh fruit that they would get to enjoy all winter and well into the spring.
If you do some quick research, it appears the custom of oranges actually began in the 1880s with the advent of the cross continental railway system. By the twentieth century, Santa Claus, working with the rail roads and the local seasonal availability of fresh oranges around winter time, made it possible for most children to get a fresh orange, or other fruit, at the bottom of their stocking on Christmas.
So if that explains how we starting getting fruit in stockings, where did the idea of putting fruit in a stocking truly originate? For that answer we need to go back a bit further to St. Nicholas, the precursor of Santa Claus.
Born in a village on the shore of what is now part of Turkey, he inherited a fortune but spent his life helping the poor and the persecuted, and eventually became a bishop in the new Christian church.
As the story goes, Bishop Nicholas learned of a poor man with three daughters who had no dowries and hence could not find suitors to marry them. The next night Nicholas returned and tossed three bags of
gold for the daughters’ dowries through the chimney, which happened to land in the stockings of the three maidens which they had hung to dry in front of the fireplace.
The bags of gold turned into balls of gold which are now symbolized by oranges! Bishop Nicholas is often portrayed in pictures wearing the red ceremonial robes and miter (or headdress) and holding the staff of a bishop, as well as holding three gold balls, gold coins, or pieces of “gold” fruit.
So, you can be assured I’ll be checking my family’s stockings for oranges. Perhaps we may event find the “Cuties” or “Halo” brand of mandarins. Those fruits are quite tasty.