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Get to know…..Holiday Citrus

Gifts made from citrus products. Basket, ribbon juice, candles. UF/IFAS Photo: Tyler Jones. UF/IFAS calendar 2009.

Oranges and other citrus have a special place during holiday celebrations.  We find them in our decorations, on our dinner table, shipped to friends and families across the country, and sometimes, if you are really good, in your Christmas stocking.

But where did these traditions come from? And when did they become part of the annual celebrations around the world.  For this special edition of “Get to know us…” we went directly to the source and interviewed Holiday Citrus!

So, when did citrus become associated with Christmas?

I’ve been around for centuries.  According to Emily Spivack (a Christmas scholar), the orange became part of Christmastime tradition in the 19th century, in concert with the rise of hanging stockings near the fire. The tradition of hanging holiday hosiery dates back to at least 1823, when it is mentioned in the classic poem “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” later known as “The Night Before Christmas,” which notes that Santa Claus “fill’d all the stockings” before exiting stage left via chimney.  You can read more about this in her article at for Smithsonian.com.

 Many of us have fond memories (and ongoing hopes) of receiving an orange in our Christmas stocking? Where does that tradition come from?

While I can trace my roots back to 3 A.D. (see below), and stockings became popular in the 1800s, citrus in stockings really took off in the United States during the Great Depression. Money was tight and getting a special orange on Christmas morning in your stocking was a real treat and something that a family could afford to splurge on.

 I hear you have special relationship with St. Nicholas. Can you tell me about it?

We go way back.  The legend is that the real St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, gave sacks of gold to a poor man whose three daughters could not marry because he could not afford their dowries.  The tale goes that St. Nick threw the sacks down the man’s chimney where they landed in the  daughters stockings drying by the fire.  Over the years, people honored the story by giving oranges – natural spheres of gold—in stockings.

 I understand that you may have had some help from some public relations pros.

Well, I did get some help in the early part of the 20th century from our friends in California.   Oranges were mass marketing to the general public through advertising in the early 1900s. The California Fruit Growers Exchange began a massive sales campaign for its Sunkist label in 1908. Manhattan retail stores and soda fountains had bright orange advertisements plastered in their windows. At Christmas, a cartoon Santa Claus offered an orange as the “most healthful gift,” writes Tom Zoellner in a piece about the orange industrial complex for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

 Do you have a favorite type of citrus for these holiday stockings?

Any type will do. Some people like tangerines, mandarin and satsumas.  Of course, fresh Florida citrus is the best.