Did you ever stop to wonder why Santa (and then, later, Santa’s parental helpers) would slip citrus fruit in your stocking, hung by the chimney with care? (To fend off scurvy in the deep midwinter? And in that case, why an orange, and not a lime or lemon?)
We did some looking around, and found competing theories about the origins of oranges-in-your-sock tradition. One explanation says that oranges represent the bags of gold coins that (the real, historical, fourth-century) St. Nicholas threw down the chimney of a poor family — which landed in the children’s stockings.
Others theorize that foods that are round and yellow or orange represent the bright sun and are throwbacks to pagan Winter Solstice / Yule feast celebrations.
Another more recent explanation is that, in the days before we could buy every imaginable kind of fruit and veg year ’round, fresh fruit from far away in the wintertime was an exotic, rare treat. (You can read the full explanation after the page break, below).
In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking; how Heaven knows, anything goes. But it’s not the olden days anymore, and you can have oranges all winter long if you like. You don’t have to limit yourself to the same-old-same-old! We’ve got several a new, “exotic” ways to revisit the orange-in-your-stocking tradition:
Blood Orange Olive Oil: The tough-skinned blood orange is smaller than the average orange, with deep crimson flesh the color of a ruby-red grapefruit. Blood oranges have a unique flavor profile compared to other oranges, being distinctly raspberry-like in addition to the usual citrus notes. Tunisian blood oranges ripen at just the same time as Tunisian Chetoui and Chemlali olives. We take these ripe fruits and press them together to produce our Blood Orange Olive Oil.
Cara-Cara Orange Vanilla White Balsamic Vinegar: The Cara-Cara orange is a Venezuelan cross of two navel oranges, smaller than your regular orange, but with a brilliant orange-pink inside and a sweeter flavor. We pair the Cara-Cara with a delicious white balsamic, aged up to 12 years, and then we add smooth sweet Bourbon Island Vanilla. Like a Creamsicle for grown-ups!
Tangerine Balsamic Vinegar: A close cousin to the orange, the tangerine has a deep-orange fruit, deliciously super-sweet with the tartness found in citrus. We take that delicious flavor and combine it with aged balsamic vinegar to produce our Tangerine Balsamic Vinegar.
Good things; small packages. The refreshing citrus flavor of orange extract is useful anywhere you need a bit of orange. Orange extract ($7.50/4 oz; $4.50/2 oz) is the perfect taste partner to vanilla, chocolate, strawberries, pineapples and many other sweets and fruits. Orange extract is a popular ingredient in biscotti, Italian orange spice cake, and in Italian ricotta cheese cake.
Try a sip of any (or all!) of these yummy oils and balsamics on your next visit to the AllSpice tasting bar, and let Santa Claus know what kind of orange you’d like in your stocking. All three of these sumptuous orange treats are available in the tall 375 ml size ($14.75 – $15.50 each), or in the 150 ml “stocking stuffer” size ($10 ea, or in a “You Pick 4” pack for $36).
Finally, for a more “traditional” non-traditional orange stocking stuffer, we recommend a bar of our Ethereal Confections Blood Orange and Vanilla Bean chocolate ($6.95, pictured above). It’s a handcrafted dark chocolate bar filled with a sweet, bright and creamy blood orange and vanilla bean center made from our naturally infused olive oil and vinegar.
Jolly Old Saint Nicholas, lob your gold this way… One explanation for the orange stocking-stuffer tradition reaches back to St. Nicholas, a 4th-century Christian saint who was born in what is now present-day Turkey. An heir with substantial wealth, Nicholas devoted his life to helping others, and eventually became a bishop.
According to the story, Nicholas heard about a poor father who had no dowry to attract suitors for his three daughters. Nicholas traveled to the house, and threw three sacks of gold down the chimney for each of the dowries. You probably can guess what happened next: a bag of gold landed in each of the girls’ stockings (which were, coincidentally, hung up by the fire to dry).
And here’s where the oranges (finally) come in: some folks insist that the oranges we receive from Santa in our stockings today are a symbol of the gold that St. Nicholas left in the stockings.
Merry Christmas and to all a good night, John-boy. As an adolescent, I had always thought that the oranges were a quaint-but-dorky hold-over from my parents’ childhood, sort of like “The Waltons” or Little House on the Prairie (although I realize now, as an adult, that they wouldn’t have had California or Florida citrus fruit delivered by Mr. Edwards in a one-horse open sleigh to Indian Territory – Kansas – in the 1870s).
Turns out this explanation is also true: not as far back as the 1870s, but more recently in the early to mid-twentieth century, fresh fruits and vegetables were much more seasonal (and local) than today. Before the days of cargo jets and industrial greenhouses, fresh oranges were hard to come by, especially in wintertime – especially in northern climes – especially in austere times like the Great Depression. A big, juicy orange under any of those circumstances would have been a luxurious treat.