Posted November 21st, 2019 by Fruidel Team
Saint Nicholas and the Three Bags of Gold
The tradition of Christmas stockings themselves stem from a story of Saint Nicholas and so does the story of oranges in them.
St. Nicholas, who was a rich bishop, born in the 4th century of present-day Turkey, once learned of a shopkeeper who was poor and unable to find husbands for his three daughters as they didn’t have money for dowries. The man worried what would become of his very beautiful daughters after he died. However, the man was very proud and would not accept money or charity from others. Yet, St. Nicholas still wished to help. He, therefore, decided to help in secret.
One day he secretly tossed three bags of gold down the chimney while they slept. Each bag (or ball) of gold happened to land in each of the daughters’ stockings which fortuitously were hung by the fire to dry.
The family awoke the next morning and found the gold and were, of course, overjoyed at the generosity they had received anonymously. The daughters were then able to pay their dowries and wed, ensuring their father peace knowing they would be taken care of after he was no longer around.
This story led to people hanging stockings by their fireplaces, hoping that they too might be blessed with gifts from others.
The “gold bags” or “gold balls” in the story of St. Nicholas are hard for us to replicate today, so instead, we use the citrus look-a-likes of oranges, tangerines, or clementines.
The History – Oranges Were an Expensive Luxury
Despite oranges becoming less expensive and more available by the late 19th century thanks to transportation and oranges being grown in southern Europe and the Mediterranean, and in California and Florida, they were very expensive and hard to come by for a long time. Oranges were often reserved for only the wealthy and the elite, something only the very rich could afford to eat during the year.
When poor individuals saved up for an orange, it really was a special treat then to receive, especially on Christmas morning. Many times they ate their oranges in pottages and pies during the 12 Days of Christmas (which traditionally starts on Christmas Day) or made marmalades with them.
Oranges Were a Treat During the Great Depression
Like I explained a bit at the beginning of this post, the Great Depression of the 1930s created financial burdens for millions of families. People didn’t have the means to buy gifts for their children.
Oranges were not usually consumed during the year either unless you lived in places they grew naturally as people turned to eating homegrown and homemade foods as it was cheaper than buying items from the market.
Oranges Represent the Season of Giving
As we learned in the story of St. Nicholas and poor shopkeeper with three daughters, the gifts the man received were ones given in generosity, without thought about receiving a gift in return.
Thus, giving of oranges (balls of gold) in Christmas stockings is a symbol of charity and giving. Oranges in stockings serve as a reminder to care for others who are in need and less fortunate than you.
Also, because the orange separates easily into segments, it is an ideal and easy fruit to share with others.
Lastly, receiving oranges in stockings has become a tradition. It’s something millions of people have done over centuries in various countries, of various incomes. It’s one of those things people just do because it’s always been done, like having a Christmas tree or hanging up Christmas stockings or displaying a nativity set each year.
And that is why in large part I believe this orange in Christmas stocking tradition should continue. It has a positive history and tradition, one of charity and poverty.
I will teach my children about why Christmas oranges are part of their stockings because it helps them reflect on how blessed they are to live in such affluence today.