Here's Why We Put Oranges in Stockings at Christmas

Here's Why We Put Oranges in Stockings at Christmas

Kelli Foster
Dec 16, 2014
(Image credit: ziashusha/Shutterstock)

What do you find in your stocking on Christmas morning? Aside from the requisite candy canes and fun stocking stuffers, I always know there will be an orange (usually a clementine) resting in the toe of my stocking.

What I thought was simply a sweet family tradition actually has a lot more meaning, and it's pretty interesting.

My grandmother started the tradition in our family when my mother was young. My mother continued it with me, and my fiancé (who also remembers finding an orange in his stocking at Christmas), and I plan to carry this on with our family. While I've only recently learned the origin of this tradition, it is something I've looked forward to every Christmas morning.

We've uncovered four explanations for how the tradition of placing an orange in stockings came to be.

(Image credit: Emily Han)

1. St. Nicholas and his sacks of gold.

One explanation for this tradition stretches back hundreds of years to St. Nicholas, who was born in what is now present-day Turkey. He inherited a large sum of money, but devoted his life to helping others, and eventually became a bishop.

According to the story, St. Nicholas learned of a poor man who wasn't able to find suitors for his three daughters because he didn't have money for a dowry. St. Nicholas traveled to the house, and tossed three sacks of gold down the chimney for each of the dowries. The gold happened to land in each of the girls' stockings which were hanging by the fire to dry. The oranges we receive today are a symbol of the gold that was left in the stockings.

2. A treat during the Great Depression.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, money was tight, and many families simply didn't have the means to buy gifts. Instead, it was such a treat, even a luxury, to find things like a sweet orange or some walnuts in your stocking on Christmas.

3. Oranges were once a scarce treat.

Some also offer the idea that fresh oranges were hard to come by, especially in the north, so finding one of these fruits in your stocking was a huge treat, and a way of celebrating the holiday.

4. It's the season of giving.

Another theory behind the tradition is that December is the season of giving, and the orange segments represent the ability to share what you have with others.

Did you ever receive an orange in your stocking on Christmas morning?

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