Oranges and Christmas

bowl of oranges and apples

“To many an old-timer who grew up here in the mountains, oranges are as much a part of Christmas tradition as holly and mistletoe, eggnog and boiled custard.

Whenever they whiff the pungent smell of an orange being peeled, no matter the season, they think of Christmas.

For, as children in a world where the commonplace things of today were rarities, they never saw oranges except at Christmas time. And they believed that oranges could be bought only then because merchants never displayed them at any other season.

Back when they were a real luxury for mountain folks, families bought a dozen oranges and felt that they were well supplied. Folks scrimpted and saved, hoarding up their eggs for trade at the country store, to be able to have oranges at Christmas. To the children of that era it was not Christmas without getting an orange.”

—John Parris “Oranges Mean Christmas to Old Timers”

Today I can buy oranges pretty much anytime of the year, yet I too think of oranges as being part of Christmas.

Granny always had oranges and apples at Christmas and still does. The brown paper sack of goodies handed out by local churches always contains an orange along with a few bits of candy and nuts.

In recent years my day after Christmas sweet orange cinnamon pull apart bread has become a tradition.


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  • Reply
    December 21, 2020 at 11:29 am

    As a caregiver, the lady I took care of 2 yrs ago , I would peel her an orange and I ‘d tell her smell this. What’s it smell like . She said I dont know. I told her 1 time, it smells like Christmas. From then on for 4 and half yrs I would ask her when I peel her an orange and ask her what’s it smell like and she would grin and say Christmas.

  • Reply
    December 19, 2020 at 4:14 pm

    When I was a child, we each got a bag with an apple, orange, and some of that fancy hard candy you only see at Christmas at the church Christmas Party. My Daddy took over filling the bags because the elderly gentleman who used to do it was not able any more. Even the grown ups got a bag. We used to get tangerines at Christmas, too. And everybody had a bowl of mixed nuts with a nutcracker and picks on the coffee table. I saw a bag of mixed nuts in the store the other week, and those memories came back. Christmas was so special when I was a child. It is still special to me today.

  • Reply
    Barbara Parker
    December 18, 2020 at 9:17 pm

    I remember when I was 4 years old and growing up in the Appalachian Mountains when Christmas was a very special time for us. My Aunt Elvia let me go out in the woods to find a Christmas tree and it was beautiful. We made the simple decorations for it. On Christmas Eve we went to bed early and all of us kids were excited. Sandy Claws came that night and left us all an apple, an orange, a peppermint stick, and a few nuts in the stockings we had hung on the fireboard. The thrill of it all was when Grandma Nix found that Sandy Claws had left a twist of sweet tobacco hidden in her shoe! We all loved Grandma Nix so much that it was the best Christmas present of all, just to see her smile and the twinkle in her blue eyes when she found that little twist of tobacco. Christmas was simple but so special that it lives on in my memories for over 70 years. Merry Christmas everyone! I hope everyone gets at least one orange in their stocking and that they appreciate it and that they savor every juicy morsel! I can almost smell the fragrance now.

  • Reply
    December 18, 2020 at 12:43 pm

    My Mother’s family consisted of 11 children and I still remember the happy look on her face when she would describe Christmas morning in N.E. MS. It must have been that way all over the south. Their own socks sitting at the fireplace loaded with an Orange, Apple, stick of Peppermint and varied nuts.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    December 18, 2020 at 11:24 am

    We generally didn’t get bought fruit. Christmas meant oranges, apples, nuts in the shell–sometimes Santa would throw a coconut on our porch near Christmas time.

    Mama used to tell us about her daddy bringing home a whole stalk of bananas and how much they loved them! There were six kids so I don’t imagine they lasted long. One of Daddy’s sisters used to bring a big platter of banana & peanut butter to Christmas at Granny”s. They were quickly gobbled up!

    Such were the luxuries of the past! How delicious they tasted and now they are routine and not nearly as delicious. I am always searching for a sweet and juicy orange but they are still rare.

  • Reply
    December 18, 2020 at 10:58 am

    I got a little treat bag from the church, and it is always such a special little treat for all. My sister and I dug in at my home, even at our ages 🙂 Just like two children, I shared her favorite of the hard candy and a Twix bar while I enjoyed the one big orange. The big apples will be used in a recipe I have for zucchini bread, but I substitute apples. We reminisced about how our dear Mother always loved that hard candy at Christmas, because it was what she grew up having during those long ago celebrations. My dad remembered oranges that time of year. Yes, we could easily go out and get all the items in that simple bag, but that little “poke” brings with it all the memories and joy from all the Christmases gone before. Thank you, Tipper, for always reminding us how special Appalachians are in every way.

  • Reply
    Donna M Wood
    December 18, 2020 at 10:49 am

    Oh yes, I always knew that round object showing at the bottom of my stocking was going to be an orange, and there were nuts in there too. What fun it is, being a kid.

  • Reply
    Deanna Ramey Ammons
    December 18, 2020 at 10:41 am

    After reading your blog about Christmas and oranges, I decided to share a memory of a lady I interviewed many years ago. She was born in the early 1900s and grew up in our small town in the Pacific North West. Eleanor told me that, at the time she was growing up, her father would buy a box of oranges at Christmas time and each orange was wrapped in a soft blue paper which was saved to use as toilet paper in the outhouse.

    I might add that Sunkist was the first company nationally to give something free as a marketing tool. A person could save a certain amount of wrappers, send them in and receive a free fruit spoon. The idea was to keep saving the wrappers to complete the set of silverware. This unique business experiment began around 1910 and proved to be a great success.

  • Reply
    December 18, 2020 at 9:54 am

    Maybe that association is the reason I like orange flavored baked goods, candy & salads, etc….

  • Reply
    Sharon Schuster
    December 18, 2020 at 9:45 am

    My mother grew up in the hills of Kentucky- one of twelve kids. Getting an orange in her stocking at Christmas was one of her most special memories. She never had a banana till she was an adult. How blessed we are today with an abundance of foods from everywhere. Though, I look forward to the springtime arrival of local specialties like ramps and poke.

    • Reply
      December 18, 2020 at 11:32 am

      Elmer an Orange and a Clarkbar,

      We were a country family riding the school bus driven by a local farmer, Elmer Brown. Back then farmers owned their own busses and made some guaranteed income with a school contract. Elmer, his chosen way to be greeted, was a short thick man that looked like one of the Seven Dwarfs. Grumpy would be the proper comparison most days, but he did have to deal with my 4 older brothers. Love ’em , yet they had a knack for not follwing rules, too often thinking themselves to be funny along with their hijinx.
      Every year on the last day of school before Christmas break, Elmer would give each child an Orange and a Clark bar candy bar, as we departed the bus at our house. He wished us a Meery Christmas and told us to have fun on school break. ( Daddy, use to say Elmer was in a good mood cause he wouldn’t have to see us kids for a week.)
      A few years back I found some Clark bars at a well known restaurants gift shop. I put one each in a paper lunch sack with an Orange and give them to my two remaining bothers asking them to open the sacks at the same time.
      It was a great moment when they looked inside an both said, ELMER BROWN laughing together saying things like. We sure gave that poor old guy some trouble. I’m surprised he only kicked us off the bus sometimes and didn’t kick our @$$. A Christmas Orange and a Clark Bar will always bring back childhood memories.

  • Reply
    Sallie the Apple Doll Lady
    December 18, 2020 at 9:29 am

    We found oranges in our sock (one of Daddy’s old socks, not a decorated stocking as today) and brown sack at church in the fifties and sixties. But getting oranges by the sack full along with other citrus fresh from Florida was a treat when someone in the family returned from visiting our uncle who lived there. To my much older sister it was even more special. On her last trip driving there few years ago she stopped at a roadside stand (the same place she had stopped for years) and for a few days after arriving home she distributed a few to family members in several counties until they were all gone. I asked why because now they are available in the groceries but she said they just don’t taste the same. Last summer while we drove through E Tn we came upon a truck on the side of the road with Fl tags and a big “Florida Oranges” sign and she had me stop. I didn’t expect them to be good at that time of year but they were and she had to share what few she bought with local family and friends. I think the smell of oranges remind me of Christmas as much as the smell of cedar trees.
    Marry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all the Blind Pig Family from Tn.

  • Reply
    Doug Bishop
    December 18, 2020 at 9:27 am

    I grew up on Del-Mar-Va and it was just about the same. The only extras were when a fortunate friend or relative could take a winter vacation to Florida and return with a box of oranges which would be shared with friends.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    December 18, 2020 at 8:56 am

    That is one of my fondest memories as a kid was getting the gift bag from church that had an orange, walnuts, a candy cane and a book.

    I’m just going to linger in that memory for a bit.

  • Reply
    December 18, 2020 at 8:53 am

    Fruit and nuts along with eggnog was a given at Christmas.
    I also remember the small pokes of candies such as orange slices, candy canes and xXxX toes that you only got at Christmas.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      December 18, 2020 at 3:36 pm

      Oh Yes! The xXxX toes. You couldn’t crack them things for nothin! Hit ’em too easy and the hammer bounced right back. Hit them too hard and you had a pile of goo with sharp pieces of shell in it. But now, the xXxX nables were the best. Chocolate covered heaven. I used to split a biscuit, put a xXxX nable on each half and bake it until the xXxX nables (bellybuttons) melted then put it back together again. Nothin better!

  • Reply
    Margie Goldstein
    December 18, 2020 at 8:50 am

    I remember in my church Christmas treat bag was always an orange, candy cane, a few chocolates, writing implements, and maybe a small toy. I’d get a front row seat. ( or awfully close) to stare at the gigantic church Christmas tree with its white lights and delicate handmade lace ornaments for hours taking in all that magic gleam and sparkle! I remember my grandpa on the day he had a stroke (in MAY) “Pearly, I got to get a crate of oranges and a crate of grapes for Christmas for the younguns!” That’s when I saw mommy panic as she said “ Bob, are you ok?!” To this day that memory is vivid and frightening because it was the day I learned there’s NO CERTAINTY IN THIS LIFE…. God bless you all at Christmas with oranges, Jesus’ peace, love and hope for a better 2021.

  • Reply
    Colleen Holmes
    December 18, 2020 at 8:49 am

    I make a creamy baked custard. The boiling custard intrigues me. Is this a different custard?

  • Reply
    December 18, 2020 at 8:48 am

    Oranges and apples have always been a part of Christmas for us. My father in law would by a large box of navel oranges for Christmas every year to give to his children and grandchildren, but he would keep some for his self too. The church my and my wife’s family go to has had a tradition of giving brown paper bags of fruit to all members at Christmas. I know this has been done for at least 65 years. Unfortunately we will not be able to do this year because of having to close the church this week due to the COVID virus. One member tested positive after being around some of the members.

  • Reply
    Gene Smith
    December 18, 2020 at 8:30 am

    Nothing to do with Christmas oranges, which I do enjoy, but some readers might be interested in watching the western sky each evening after sunset to watch Jupiter and Saturn align. On Monday evening, December 21, they will appear as one. This happens only every 800 years! It last occurred in 1623. Let’s hope we have clear weather for the next few evenings. With good binoculars some of their moons and Saturn’s rings should be visible.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 18, 2020 at 8:21 am

    Yep, I always associate citrus of any kind with Christmas (except for lemons which are for summer lemonade.) Still yet the combined smell of orange or tangerine peel and cedar is the smell of Christmas to me. We did not have citrus as a routine thing at our house. Us kids never had orange juice for breakfast. Citrus was for special and especially Christmas.

    One of the things life teaches us all is that things that are common and/or come too easily tend to be taken for granted and lightly valued. because of that, we have to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. I am disappointed in myself when I catch myself taking anything or anyone for granted. At our house we have sorta specialized beginning when the kids were small in “little special” gifts. By little, I mean not costly in total though the cost can be unusually high for one. My example this year could be a quince. I have never tried one and I would like to. But even if they were to be available year-round (which they are not, only now) I would never buy them as a common thing because they are too expensive. But I consider them worth it for a one-time experience. Along that line, my son’s gift last year was a small amount of quince jam.

    The other day I made the switch from apples to oranges. I had been eating Red Stayman apples but suddenly took a notion for oranges. I’m sure that in the back of my mind it was because it is nearly Christmas. And I got a sticker shock when I discovered that what I foolishly thought was a per pound price turned out to be a per orange price. Silly me. A good shopper I am not.

    One other thing about oranges. Last year on a whim I crystalized some peel. It worked like a charm but I ended up with too much and had to eat most of it myself.

  • Reply
    December 18, 2020 at 8:18 am

    Our Preacher always gifted us a brown paper bag filled with an orange, an apple, a few nuts, a thick peppermint stick, and a couple bite-size chocolates. This sweet tradition ended with his retirement a few years ago and is sorely missed as is he. Merry Christmas and God Bless you, Preacher Richard!

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    December 18, 2020 at 7:47 am

    I remember when oranges would arrive at my Uncle Rush Mauney’s store. It meant Christmas was nigh! The store was at what is now Gum Log Rd and Murphy Hwy……he sold out to the Beavers family and they kept it for many years…..there is a convenience store there now but I’ll always remember the oranges, Christmas, and the toy room that would open about the time the oranges showed up.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 18, 2020 at 6:48 am

    When I was a child, from birth to the end of second grade we lived in Pasadena Texas. The paper mill where most of my family worked opened up a new plant there and my folks went there to work. I can remember going to church on Christmas Eve and they gave the kids a bag with peppermint candy and an orange.
    Oranges were an exotic thing back them and I really liked them.

    • Reply
      December 18, 2020 at 4:16 pm

      Growing up having apples and oranges were not an everyday thing for us either so having them at Christmas was welcome treat . We got tangerines though with our apples.I was wishing for a tangerine the other day but all you find in the stores lately is the mandarins which I also like but they are not quite a tangerine . We also set out a big bowl of mixed nuts and a good nutcracker … a round wooden bowl shaped container with a place for the metal nutcracker and picks to stand in the middle (anyone remember these) ?…always thankful for those things still am ☺️…walnut shells made neat hiding places for tiny Christmas gifts which mama hung on the tree.

  • Reply
    Rick Morton
    December 18, 2020 at 6:45 am

    We still hang on to this tradition. We put a apple, orange, English walnuts, and a couple candy canes in the grandkids stockings. My parents always did this. And we did it for our sons as well.

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