When I was growing up I always had a Christmas stocking. Hung somewhere in the house, usually the banister, waiting to be filled by Santa Claus. Except, my stocking wasn't filled with candy or small toys. Every year, when I would check its contents, it would be full of oranges and nuts, always in their shell. Sometimes, there might even be an apple in it. As a child, I found this to be rather curious. My friends didn't get fruit and nuts in their stockings. I was convinced something was wrong at my house.
As I matured, I came to understand that it was more of a tradition for an orange to be placed in a Christmas stocking. And, until recently, I thought it was due to oranges being more of a rare item for people in the past. Many years ago, and especially in poorer communities, oranges were just not readily available. Receiving an orange in the winter was a true treat indeed.
It seems that the tradition of an orange in the toe of your Christmas stocking originates with a certain Nicholas. He was born in a village in what is now known as Turkey. He became wealthy through an inheritance, but spent his time helping the poor. Eventually he became a Bishop in the New Christian Church.
Bishop Nicholas learned of a poor man with three daughters who had no dowries. And, without dowries, they could not marry. Bishop Nicholas took it upon himself to take three bags of gold coins and toss them down the poor man's chimney.....which somehow happened to land in the daughter's stocking that were hanging up to dry in front of the fireplace.
The bags of gold turned into balls of gold which now symbolize the oranges. Bishop Nicholas is often shown in pictures wearing a red ceremonial robe and miter, while holding the staff of a bishop as well as holding three gold balls, gold coins, or pieces of fruit. He was later canonized and made a saint. Thus we know him as Saint Nicholas.
So, we have him to thank for those wonderful oranges in our stockings on Christmas morning. They do fill out the toe rather nicely, I think.