Citrus Holiday Traditions

Tacy Callies Tip of the Week


By Ruth Borger and Megan Dewdney

Oranges and other citrus have a special place during holiday celebrations. We find them in our decorations, on our dinner table, shipped to friends and families across the country, and sometimes, if you are really good, in your Christmas stocking.

But where did these traditions come from? And when did they become part of annual celebrations worldwide? 

Citrus during the holidays has been a special treat for centuries. According to Emily Spivack (a Christmas scholar), the orange became part of Christmastime traditions in the 19th century, in concert with the rise of hanging stockings near the fire. The tradition of hanging holiday hosiery dates back to at least 1823, when it is mentioned in the classic poem “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” later known as “The Night Before Christmas,” which notes that Santa Claus “fill’d all the stockings” before exiting stage left via chimney. You can read more about this in Spivack’s article here.

Citrus in stockings really took off in the United States during the Great Depression. Money was tight and getting a special orange on Christmas morning in your stocking was a real treat and something that a family could afford to splurge on.

Giving citrus during the holidays got a big boost in the early 20th century from the California Fruit Growers Exchange. Oranges were mass marketed to the public through advertising in the early 1900s. The California Fruit Growers Exchange began a massive sales campaign for its Sunkist label in 1908. Manhattan retail stores and soda fountains had bright orange advertisements plastered in their windows. At Christmas, a cartoon Santa Claus offered an orange as the “most healthful gift,” writes Tom Zoellner in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Mandarin oranges, satsumas and tangerines are traditional Chinese New Year gifts that symbolize good fortune and abundance. In Russian New Year’s celebrations, boxes and plates of oranges are special treats as well as popular decorations around the home. Some Winter Solstice celebrations use citrus fruit to symbolize the sun and the promise of longer days and shorter nights to come. Learn more about these traditions here.

In British Columbia, Canada, mandarins and satsuma oranges are a traditional part of the Christmas celebration. The tradition dates to the late 1800s when Japanese immigrants to Canada received packages of satsuma oranges from their families in Japan to celebrate the new year. The first commercial shipment of oranges arrived from Japan through the Port of Vancouver in 1891. Soon they would be transported by truck and train across the country for holiday celebrations. Read more here.

Today, holiday citrus has expanded into traditional gift baskets, shipping boxes of fresh citrus across the country from any number of Florida operations, delicious recipes featuring fresh oranges, grapefruits and lemons, and beautiful decorations using fresh and dried citrus. A quick internet search provides an abundance of affordable ideas from easy to complex.

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension bookstore sells several cookbooks with tasty citrus recipes including Simply Florida: A Taste of Flavors from the Sunshine State. Another great cookbook sold through the bookstore is Field to Feast, Recipes Celebrating Florida Farmers, Chefs, and Artisans. These books can be ordered online at

Give a gift to yourself this year with some delicious Florida citrus!

Ruth Borger is a communications specialist and Megan Dewdney is an associate professor, both at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred.