I love Christmas. Andy Williams was right when he sang “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. It truly is – because it is the time of year when Satsuma Mandarin oranges are in season. If you have never had a satsuma, do yourself a favor: Go to the nearest grocery store and buy yourself a box. Satsumas are sweet, juicy, easy-to-peel, and downright delectable.
For many families, Satsumas are also part of a long-running Christmas tradition of using oranges as stocking stuffers on Christmas morning. This time honored tradition is quite commonplace, although its origins are not common knowledge. The practical theory is that in olden days, oranges were a luxury item for most Europeans and Northern-Americans celebrating Christmas as they were not easy to obtain and were symbolic of the treats and treasures of the far-away tropics.
Additionally, as shipping and storage methods evolved and improved, oranges became easier to obtain. Satsumas were a particular revelation due to their ability to survive cold temperatures (What luck, since Satsumas are also the best oranges!). Thus, parents started including Satsumas in stockings to give their loved ones an unsuspected “foreign” treat.
However, the true origin of this practice is rooted in the lore of Saint Nicholas, and is far more magical. According to one legend of St. Nick, known then as Bishop Nicholas, he one day heard of a man in his town who had three lovely young daughters. Alas, the man had no wealth and thus no dowry to provide to suitors, so his daughters remained unwed. The Bishop took pity upon him, and good old Nicholas went to the man’s home that evening and tossed three bags of gold for the daughters’ dowries through the chimney. As luck would have it, the gold landed in the girls’ stockings, which had been hung to dry in front of the fireplace. The bags of gold turned into balls of gold which are now symbolized by oranges. What a delightful story!
For my fellow satsuma lovers, here are a couple links to fun uses of satsumas.