Stories from the Barn
A hive of activity in the Hampshire downlands
Oranges and Christmas
What is the connection between oranges and Christmas?
Advent Calendar 6
We take for granted the orange in the toe of the Christmas stocking, of oranges being added to mulled wines and dried oranges added to garlands but why are they in the mix of a traditional British Christmas?
Orange or Gold?
There are a number of theories to account for oranges at Christmas. One of which relates to St Nicholas of Myra one of the most venerated saints in all Christendom. In Britain alone there are 400 churches dedicated to him. St Nicholas’s symbol is three gold balls. This represents three bags of gold he is said to have dropped through the window or down the chimney of a poor mans house. Each ball of gold was to provide a dowry for each of his three daughters, saving him from the shame and them from a lifetime of prostitution. The story has grown to the ball of gold dropping into a stocking placed on the fire hearth. Not many of us have balls of gold so an orange is substituted instead.
Oranges made their way to Britain hundreds of years ago.
Such an exotic fruit with an extraordinary taste must have captured the imagination of Europeans who were first offered oranges by Muslim traders. Certainly the Crusaders tasted them and popularized them but an orange was a rare and exotic and expensive thing.
The bitter ‘Seville’ orange was brought to Spain and Northern Africa by the Arabs. It is recorded that in the C13th, Queen Eleanor of Castile bought seven oranges with her from Spain.
However the orange was a rare fruit. Quince marmalade was made in Britain from the mid 1400’s, but it was only in the early C17th that oranges started to be used. As exploration reached further into the citrus growing parts of the world so the taste for oranges grew.
Oranges were given as gifts at Christmas and other festival times.
Royalty gave guests gifts of oranges. They were symbols of wealth and although the Seville orange had been available for some time, sweet oranges were not. The sweet orange was more difficult to transport but the likes of Sir Walter Raleigh were soon bringing them home.
Raleigh planted orange seeds in Surrey, which grew successfully until 1739 when they were lost to the cold. By the mid C17th orange sellers or orange girls were plying their trade on London streets around the theatres. Samuel Pepys and J.Evelyn were making reference to orange gardens and sellers.
Pepys was piqued when on the 11th May 1668 after a theatre trip he wrote;
‘But there happened one thing which vexed me, which is, that the orange-woman did come in the pit, and challenge me for twelve oranges, which she delivered by my order at a late play, at night, to give to some ladies in a box, which was wholly untrue, but yet she swore it to be true. However, I did deny it, and did not pay her; for quiet, did buy 4s. worth of oranges of her, at 6d. a-piece.’
Seville Orange Wine.
The best time for Seville oranges is around December and this popped up in the hunt for the history of the orange. An account from about 1845.
‘When the quarter-chest of Seville oranges used to come home for wine-making, I marveled at the number, in their thin French coffin-looking boxes, and each one wrapped in its own paper envelope; but here there was no end to the ripe and juicy spheres.’
This has got to be another perfect tipple at Christmas and although it cannot be foraged from the hedgerow is something worth trying. We will give an update asap.