Peanut butter and jelly, movies and popcorn, oranges and Christmas stockings: some things just belong together. But have you ever wondered just why your stocking would feel empty without some citrus in it?
Turns out nobody is exactly sure where this tradition comes from, but it most likely has something to do with either gold or the Great Depression.
Many families have kept this tradition for generations, and everyone seems to have a different explanation for it. The wise foodies over at The Kitchn have outlined four of the most common theories behind those oranges in our stockings.
1. St. Nicholas and the dowries
The most popular explanation looks back to St. Nicholas (the historical one, not the guy in the red suit). He was a wealthy man who lived back in the 4th century in what is now Turkey, and spent his life helping others, eventually becoming a bishop.
According to the legend, he learned of a poor shopkeeper who couldn’t afford dowries for his three daughters. To help the family, St. Nicholas went to the town at night, and tossed three sacks of gold through the window (or down the chimney, depending on the story). The gold landed in the girls’ stockings, which were drying by the fire. By the time the family awoke, the gold had condensed into balls in the toes of the stockings.
Following St. Nicholas’ example, people began giving oranges—as representations of gold—at Christmas as a way to celebrate generosity and caring for those in need.
Those who celebrate St. Nick’s Day on Dec. 6 will often awake to find an orange, along with some other goodies, tucked into their shoes.
2. Great Depression treats
This explanation relies a little less on ancient history, but it’s no less convincing. During the Depression in the 1930s, most families couldn’t afford to buy gifts. Money was so scarce that it was a luxury just to find a treat like an orange in your stocking on Christmas morning. Even after the Depression ended, some families continued this tradition, and it lives on to this day.
3. Celebrating a special occasion
This may come as a shock to those of you in Florida, but oranges weren’t always plentiful. For years, oranges were a luxury item, especially for people living up north. Slipping an orange or clementine into a Christmas stocking was another way of celebrating the holiday with a rare treat.
4. The season of giving
Similar to the first explanation (but without the legend), this says that oranges symbolize the spirit of giving around the holidays. The shareable segments of an orange represent the possibility of sharing what you have with others.
There may not be a consensus on where the Christmas oranges come from, but we can all agree that the tradition inspires generosity—and that it’s delicious!