Christmas Oranges

It was almost 25 years ago that my hubby and I sat in a little hotel restaurant in Morocco debating the pros and cons of the Quebec referendum with the waiter in our limited French. We had finished the most delightful meal infused with the fragrances of Moroccan spices as “dessert” was brought to our table. No, not cake or pie, not even date pudding, which I could have expected in Northern Africa, but about four large orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon. Unusual choice, I thought, but yummy nonetheless. As we spent the next few days swimming in the ocean (to which the locals mocked… it was winter in February after all!) I did notice the beach fronts were lined with cartons of clementines and citrus… an “in season” fruit for this part of the world.

Photo Credit: The Grit and Polish Blog

I’ve been thinking about oranges lately… not because I need the vitamin C, nor because I particularly like the flavour of oranges, but because I have been sucked in to the Pinterest and Instagram displays of the DIY/low waste/oh-so-country-pretty garlands of dried citrus and evergreen that seem to be popping up on my feeds these days. I wanna try them, but haven’t yet gathered enough energy for the hours of slicing, oven drying and bead stringing needed… not to mention I think I need more oranges. And some foraging in the woods for greenery. And time away from the kids, or maybe they would help, or maybe glue sticks are needed, or… hmmn. Maybe I won’t be trying it. The dog will probably eat them anyway. But I like them. I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

So, I did a little digging about the significance of citrus at Christmastime. Here’s some of the things I found ( via Way back in the 19th century the idea of placing an orange in the bottom of your Christmas stocking may have been an ode to the legend of the three balls (or bags or bars or coins) of gold that the Bishop of Myra, the real Saint Nicholas, gave to three poor maidens to use as dowries. Apparently they were saved from impoverishment and a life of misery by the gifting of 3 round bags of gold … later replaced by golden fruit. At the time, oranges were considered an exotic luxury — but not quite equal to gold, I suppose.

As the Victorian era came along and Christmas traditions moved forward, marketing began to take over and oranges became the hot ticket item, especially when the great depression hit and citrus once again became the “expensive” treat. Nowadays, I just grab one out of the fridge to shove in the bottom of my kid’s stockings, and they know where they came from. But maybe that dowry thing has merit… I have two daughters…

“etrog” fruits for Sukkot

It fascinates me that we give “meaning” to everyday objects. Winter solstice celebrations involve fruit. The Jewish fall celebrations of Sukkot, or Feast of Tabernacles, requires an unblemished “etrog” fruit, and Hindus cherish “Buddha’s hand” a long citrus fruit with finger-like tendrils. Plus, of course, the dear old pear tree in which the partridge sits. But pears are not citrus, are they? Oh, nevermind then.

I suppose those everyday objects are a tangible way for us to connect. By giving them meaning and significance, it helps us to acknowledge God’s creativity in the world around us. For example, He displays His majesty in the sunset. And just think of how many flavours we have: sweet, spicey, rich and bitter. Oh, can you imagine what food will be like in Heaven?! No wonder we often celebrate and remember special occasions with feasts! This year, our gatherings may be a little different. Perhaps great aunt Mary may not come to dinner with her famous sweet potato side with toasted marshmallows, and maybe there will be no cookie exchanges or pie socials. Yet, I am still expecting an orange in the bottom of my stocking… and I will be glad for it, as it will remind me: I am blessed.


It’s berry season!  Despite it’s overgrown spread and lack of attention, our backyard raspberry bush is yielding some bumper crop this year.  We have also been loving the organic blueberries that come via our local farmers markets in summer.  We even tried some haskap berries via our basket of deliveries (Which I discovered aren’t really berries… but are still yummy!).  Hands down, though, our family is big on the fat, juicy delights of strawberries!  The youngest Mitton can down a bucketful in 10 seconds flat!  I love mine with cream or in a smoothie with some banana.  Mmmmnnn… nothing says summer in Canada more than berries!

A few weeks back, we went on our traditional “pick your own” strawberry expedition with grandma. We’ve been doing it for years.  In fact, I can’t ever remember not having a freezer full of strawberries — which is actually ironic because my mother, bless her heart… does not like strawberries. strawberry picking We used to laugh as kids when mom would replace one frozen bucket with another one she had just picked, even though last year’s produce didn’t get eaten.  You see… it’s tradition.  Please… bear with me as I break out in song with Tevye in my rendition of the Fiddler on the Roof’s opening song…dai, dai, dai… okay, enough of that.  Back to strawberries.

Now that I am a mature homemaker, devoted wife and mother, I have taken on the task of processing my own strawberries.  Let me tell you… this is no easy task!  This year we picked about 7 litres… enough for three batches of jam, two giant servings for eating and about 2 cups to put in the freezer for later (the tradition continues — except we eat ours).  The whole process is a very full day’s work.  This year the picking was hot and humid.  We went to the farm early and had our baskets filled in about an hour or so.  Then the real processing begins… washing and stemming the juicy morsels as the red, staining juice drips down my arms and everything turns slightly pink.  I pop a couple super cute berries into my mouth to compensate for the mess.  Then the waiting begins.  I make “no cook” freezer jam (just follow the packet of your favourite brand) which means adding sugar, stirring, waiting, stirring, timing, waiting, stirring and finally pouring.  Making three batches at a time is… well, time consuming.  One year, I didn’t get the timing quite right and I ended up with strawberry syrup instead of jam.  Which is just as yummy on ice cream as jam, so no worries.  After all the chopping, stirring, waiting and drippy messes… the pretty red jars head off to the freezer to be pulled out again in December for decorating and gift giving.  I think all the work is so worth it… and I hope our friends and family do to when they receive their jar come Christmastime!

All in all, the effort and toil brings joy and pleasure to others.  I suppose this is why such things become traditions.  My mom fills her freezer because it reminds her of her own mother.  My kids visit the farm because it’s an activity they love to do with grandma.  Our friends are beginning to expect a jar of strawberry jam at Christmastime.  Perhaps your church has a strawberry social in the summer with loads of strawberry shortcake topped with fluffy whip cream.   I have to agree with Tevye … traditions keep our balance.  It allows us to have some sort of constant expectation.  Often, it’s an enjoyable one that we look forward to… like strawberry freezer jam.  Perhaps the hard work involved makes it even more special.  And the beginnings of traditions… often unknown or lost through the years.  Which begs the question… is a traditional way the only way?

jamI ask because traditions can also be taken for granted… we do something a certain way because we have always done it that way.  Is it wrong?  Not necessarily.  God’s word is full of examples of traditional laws … many of which we still follow today.  They are given to us by God and therefore I deem them worthy of consideration and practice in my faith walk.  Many a saint has grown spiritually from using disciplines and routine.  The caution must come when tradition overtakes our desires to grow with God vs. religious tradition.  It’s about relationship not ritual.  I am not one for change.  Really.  I like things when they stay the same… even when it comes to church.  There is something to be said for tradition.  It keeps us balanced.  But I have learned that time does not wait for anyone.  The ebb and flow of society forces us to move along and find new balances.  Like Tevye, traditions will be challenged.  We must learn and be constantly examining why we believe the things we do… is it biblical or simply a tradition?  In thirty years will it be the same?  Should it be?  Does it need to be?  This being said, God doesn’t change.  He is our constant — kinda like the pectin in my strawberry jam.  He’s the gel that should be the catalyst in our mix.  As long as we add the right amount of sweetness, and allow for some time, a little chopping and stirring brings things back to a perfect consistency.  A flawless gift we can give to our friends and family.

Will you examine your practices and traditions along with me?  Do you simply do them the way you do for the sake of tradition?  Is it good?  Or do you have to examine your reasoning deeper?  Are you just replacing another freezer burnt bucket of thoughts for the same ones?  Becoming more Christlike is a journey, and we have to twist and turn and be pruned and challenged… only then will we produce the sweetest fruit worthy of passing on to others.  It’s work, but it’s worth it.

Worth the Work!