Oranges at Christmastime come to us by way of Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was born in 271 AD near the town of Myra in what is now Southern Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God.
Legend tells of Nicholas tossing small bags of gold through an open window at night into the shoes of young women who needed dowry money to get married. This is the source of the Christmas stocking tradition…socks hung by the fireplace the night before Christmas in hope of being filled with gold in the morning. Nicholas’ bag of gold turned into a ball of gold as the story evolved, and the ball of gold eventually became an orange stuffed into the toe of the stocking.
Throughout Europe, an orange at Christmas was seen as an object of good fortune. They were prized and cherished by children and adults alike. For many living in poverty, an orange was the only gift they would receive. It would often be kept for days as its recipient would eat it slowly, savoring the aroma and sweet taste.
I grew up always receiving an orange in the toe of my stocking, but never knowing why. I never asked, and Mom never explained. I took it for granted and set it aside as I admired the other gifts Saint Nicholas had left. As I now understand the legacy of the Christmas orange, and its simple gesture of goodwill, it is a reminder to me to share my gifts with others, and to use what I have been blessed with to remember the poor and needy during the Christmas season and throughout the coming year.
Marc K. Ensign