“History means so much more when a living soul gives it life!”
On occasion, my 84-year-old father-in-law reminisces about his childhood in the late 1930’s and 40’s. He lived through a time many of us cannot fathom; The Great Depression and World War II, when having a little was a lot. For his parents, both Polish immigrants, hard work was the catalyst for provision, and being thankful for what was provided was a natural response.
Christmas on the Farm~
Dad’s vivid childhood memories skip effortlessly from being a young boy feeding the cows on the farm to the time concerned neighbors selflessly helped his parents salvage the tobacco harvest after a hurricane sandwiched a healthy crop between the rich Western Massachusetts soil and a thick layer of battered barn boards. Life was difficult, but the harsh realities of having little were far outweighed by the love his struggling parents bestowed upon him and his sister.
For those who grew up during the Great Depression, Christmas was not a time to be selfish. Unlike today, long gift lists were not contrived, and expectations were based in reality. Basic necessities ruled, even at Christmas. Many times, the only gift my father-in-law received was a lone orange, and without a doubt, he did not take it for granted.
Legends and Tradition~
The tradition of placing an orange at the bottom of the Christmas stocking is still carried on by many families today. It’s their way of giving a nod of acknowledgment to those who struggled during those sparse times in history. Back in the day, the orange was viewed as a sweet exotic luxury, especially in the dead of winter when fresh fruit was far from easy to find.
The legend of generous and kind Saint Nicholas* (born 280 A.D.); a prosperous monk set on helping the poor and sick by giving away all of his inherited wealth, also brings the orange front and center at Christmas.
In one tale of his selfless efforts, we picture Saint Nicholas secretly tossing bags of coins through a window to help three poor sisters avoid prostitution by providing them with a dowry. Over time, the story changed and oranges came to represent the gold coins while the window was replaced by the chimney, hence the bags ending up in the girl’s stockings hung by the fire to dry.
True Gifts ~
No matter the origin of finding a juicy delectable orange in a stocking at Christmas, the message is consistent; giving is what matters. Saint Nicholas selflessly gave what he had and my father-in-law’s parents selflessly gave what they could. In the end, it truly mattered to those lucky enough to be on the receiving end of such generosity and love.
Christmas is a time to be kind, generous, and loving to those you encounter, but it is also a time to be thankful…thankful for the simple, the small, and the sweet. As always, I am thankful for what I have, but most especially for family!
Sweetest of Christmas greetings to you all ~ Kathy
*The name Santa Claus evolved from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas).