There are competing theories behind this sweet tradition.
Certain Christmas traditions span geography and generations: singing carols throughout the season, leaving cookies out for Santa on Christmas Eve … and finding an orange in your stocking come Christmas morning.
While many families from different parts of the world honor this sweet citrus-centric holiday tradition, there isn’t one specific known origin story behind it. Here are three common theories of where that orange in your stocking came from, according to the Kitchn.
From the original story of St. Nicholas
The practice of receiving gifts from Santa Claus stems back to the original story of St. Nicholas. According to the story, the saint learned of a poor father who couldn't pay dowries for his three daughters to be married. St. Nicholas tossed three bags of gold through the window of the man’s house so that the girls could be wed—and that's where his reputation as a giver originated. The oranges are thought to represent the gold that St. Nicholas gifted the girls.
As a treat during the Great Depression
Another idea is that the practice of giving oranges originated during the Great Depression, when a ripe orange would have been a wonderful and hard-to-come-by treat. Many families didn’t have money to buy expensive gifts, and a piece of fruit would have been a sweet way to celebrate the holiday.
Because oranges weren't always a common fruit
Before the days of big-box grocery stores, oranges weren’t widely available, especially in the northern parts of the US and the world, so getting this exotic fruit in your stocking would have been a rare treat.
If you’re looking for another heartwarming tradition to add to your family holidays, try this fun British tradition that will have everyone at your dinner table laughing.
(h/t the Kitchn)