Florida citrus is part of a decades-old Christmas tradition

You may know the custom of Christmas stockings goes back to stories of St. Nicholas leaving gifts in children's socks on Christmas Eve.

In Clement Clarke Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas," more commonly known as "The Night Before Christmas," stockings were hung by the chimney with care, and Santa has filled them with candy and toys on Christmas Eve ever since.

However, when you dig deeper into the stories of yesteryear, legend speaks of St. Nicholas specifically tossing a ball of gold into a girl’s stocking to spare her from suffering, but those balls of gold were likened by Europeans to a rare and exotic fruit we call oranges.

“[Oranges] would have to have come in through Italy, and so they were expensive. They were a luxury item. They were exotic, and so, it’s also round and a little golden...if you use some imagination,” said Heather Trubee Brown, the curator of education at Tampa’s Henry Plant Museum.

The explorers of Europe later discovered a new world, tailor-made for growing citrus. Florida and California produced millions of oranges, and the industry heavily promoted them as one of Santa's favorites -- and a must-have in any good little boy's or girl's stocking.

In Florida, the land of plentiful citrus, Santa became well-known for leaving his favorite fruit in the toe of the stocking.

"My parents, of course, grew up probably in the Depression, so that's what they got so they just passed it on down to us," said longtime Florida resident Bunny Scheer.

That is how the tradition spread through Florida in the 1930s. Families reeling in poverty from the Great Depression had to show their love by picking their gifts for free.

“You can go out, you can pick it, it is affordable, it’s accessible, and it’s something they’ve brought into the family,” Brown noted. “It really is important to remember that connection to some of the simpler things here in Florida, as well as in life.”

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