Why Do We Put Oranges in Christmas Stockings? Here's the History

Oranges' place in Christmas stockings has origins in the Great Depression.

green and red christmas stocking with oranges in it
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Christmas is a time of tradition. And those traditions tend to be passed down from generation to generation, giving us the opportunity to bond with those we hold near and dear during one of the most magical times of the year. Every Christmas, families gather to hang holiday decorations, sip festive drinks, and give gifts. In addition to those presents under the tree, however, there are also little trinkets to be found in the Christmas stockings hung above the fireplace. Traditionally, among those small, stocking-sized treats you might find a certain citrus fruit. But why exactly do we put oranges in Christmas stockings? As with most Christmas traditions, it's a combination of history and folklore.

According to legend, the Smithsonian notes, the custom's roots date all the way back to St. Nicholas in the 4th century. As the story goes, he heard of a poor man who couldn't afford dowries for his three daughters. So, St. Nicholas went to the man's house and tossed three gold coins into their stockings that had been laundered and were drying by the fire. Some believe the oranges we find in today's stockings are symbols of that gold.

But a more historical examination of the oranges we see in Christmas stockings today dates back to the Great Depression. With money being incredibly tight at the time, many families didn't have the funds for gifts. Instead, oranges and even walnuts were found in stockings on Christmas morning as a little gift for the special day, according to The Kitchn.

This ties in with the historical scarcity of oranges. The fresh fruit was once hard to come by, so finding one in your Christmas stocking was considered to be a special treat. "At the end of the 19th century in Europe, when the custom of gift giving for Christmas had spread, the orange was a rare and expensive fruit that was purchased from wandering merchants who came from Spain," writes journalist Dominique Foufelle in The Little Book of Christmas. "Oranges became a luxury for families of modest means who reserved them as a gift for their children."

Indeed, Tobias Roberts, a writer for HuffPost, describes how his grandmother would get extremely excited over the fruit on Christmas morning. "As a child, every Christmas she would find an orange in the toe of her stocking; a mysterious fruit brought all the way from some exotic warm place called Florida," writes Roberts. "It was special and unique, because of its rarity and because of the natural limitations that made oranges a scarce commodity in Michigan." So, the next time you find a festive fruit in your Christmas stocking, you'll appreciate what a treasured gift it truly is! And for more interesting trivia about your favorite holiday, check out 50 Fun Christmas Facts to Get You in the Holiday Spirit.

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