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Zach Fowle's Orange Christmas

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Christmas comes a little early to Chow Bella this year -- in the form of some darn good holiday storytelling. Today, Zach Fowle shares a sweet, citrus-tinged tale.

Over the years, as my tastes changed, so did the contents of my Christmas stocking. The candy canes, packs of Starburst and chocolate coins I devoured when very young became guitar picks and DVDs. But every year, no matter what else was in my stocking, one item was a constant: the orange.

Until recently, I had never given a thought to why the orange was such a faithful stocking stuffer. It was simply always there, ready to roll out last when the treats were dumped onto the floor and tallied Christmas morning. I'd set it aside, eat it with breakfast, and forget about it for another 365 days.

Maybe the fruit was thrown in to add a little nutritional value and balance the mounds of chocolate piled atop it? Maybe Santa had a keen sense of aesthetics, and used the orange to give the stocking body and weight as my sister and I grew older and our stockings became gradually thinner as candy and toys were replaced with Starbucks gift cards. It is, as they say, all in the presentation.

The Christmas orange tradition stems from my dad's side of the family, but he couldn't trace its origins either. He grew up using two sets of stockings at Christmastime: the decorative ones hung by the chimney with care, and the ones into which the goodies actually went. To maximize storage space for Christmasy treats, my dad would go out every year and buy the biggest tube sock he could find -- and no matter what else was in there, the bottom of the sock always bulged with an orange orb. It was something his parents had always done, and something their parents had done as well, as far as he knew.

After a little research (thanks, internet!), I found a few reasons for the Christmas orange. First, the origins of the Christmas orange may have been economic. Around the 1880s, the young states of Florida and California as well as the new transcontinental railroad led to an abundance of fresh oranges around the wintertime. Oranges traveled well, were relatively cheap, and in the dead of winter, fresh fruit was still considered a delicacy. What better treat for Christmas morning?

There's also another, more magical explanation.

Long ago, there lived a poor man who was blessed with three beautiful daughters. Unfortunately, the dude was not also blessed with money, and in these days it was customary for the bride's family to provide the groom a dowry. With every bachelor in town chasing after his kids, the man became worried about getting his daughters married.

Around this time, Bishop Nicholas-- the man who later became Saint Nick and inspired many of our ideas of Santa Claus -- was passing through the village when he heard of the family's plight. Nicholas wanted to help the family, but he knew that the old man wouldn't accept his charity. A covert operation was called for.

Nick waited until nightfall, then, equipped with three bags of gold -- one for each girl -- he crept into the family's house through the chimney. He placed the bags into the girls' stockings that had been hung by the fireplace to dry. When the girls and their father they found the coins the next morning they were, of course, psyched. Thanks to Saint Nick, the girls were able to get married and live happily ever after.

Over time and retellings of the story, the bags of gold Nick charitably gave away became balls of gold which are now symbolized by oranges. Isn't that nice?

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