For as long as I live, the smell of oranges will always remind me of Christmas. It doesn't matter what variety they are; navels, tangerines, tangelos, Cara Caras, they have all been stuffed into a Christmas stocking one year or another throughout my life.

So even on a bright, sunny, spring or summer day when an orange comes into my vicinity, I think about Christmas and I love it. But what is the tradition of oranges in stockings all about?

The answer to that question is multifaceted. One story has St. Nicholas leaving gold in the stockings of a poor man's three daughters, so they would have dowries and be able to marry. (The citrus fruits symbolize the gold).  Another story indicated the practice began during the Great Depression when "luxury foods" like oranges and walnuts, (not readily affordable) were left as presents under the tree instead of other gifts.

Speaking of the Christmas tree, two Balkan countries have fought over who brought in and decorated the first tree, for centuries. But why they did it is still somewhat of a mystery. Some accounts claim that German Christians did it in the 16th century as a symbol of everlasting life during the bleak winters.

How about cookies, when did the tradition of baking massive amounts of Christmas cookies begin? When we were kids, we thought our mom was the founder of that tradition. Mom wasn't an amazing cook, but oh could she bake! Breads, rolls, cakes and cookies were her forte and at Christmas time, her talents shown as brightly as the lights on our tree!

History tells us that people always celebrated winter holidays with good food and in the Middle Ages, they apparently added desserts to their already abundant feasts and this is where the cookie tradition began.

Whatever the history, traditions add a rich warmth to the holiday season, whether ancient or extremely recent, family-created ones; like the Christmas Eve lasagna bake-off which takes place at one northeastern Iowa farmhouse every year.

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